Posted by: briellethefirst | August 28, 2010

Simple Bread


Thick sliced, buttered with Honey Bear standing by

Thick sliced, buttered with Honey Bear standing by

This is the simplest bread recipe I’ve ever found. I saw it originally in Mother Earth News and played with it a bit. You will need a cast iron Dutch oven. I’ve played with loaf pans and it’s OK, but you’ll need to put a pan of warm water in to keep the humidity up in the oven for a nice crust. If you don’t have loaf pans get some. Oh, darn, another shopping expedition! You’ll also need tea towels (NOT nubbly! Smooth so the dough doesn’t stick and grab!). If you don’t have a nice linen tea towel, get one. And do you have a bowl large enough for the bread dough to rise in? Sure? If your bowl is just big enough to mix in it still needs to be big enough for the dough to rise to double in size with room at the top so it doesn’t overflow. While you’re out take a look at large, cheap metal bowls. Yes, plastic will do, but metal is more versatile. If you decide you really like baking you can eventually buy a really nice ceramic bowl to mix in. I used to have one just for bread, one for pizza dough, one for cookies & one for biscuits. All started with just the right size pile of flour in the middle. As each broke I had to reconstruct my recipes. Major pain, but at least I still have my pizza bowl. It really does feel nice to mix food in a bowl that’s a work of art, and in between uses they can sit in places of honor on shelves in the kitchen or dining room or even take turns on the living room coffee table. Now back to our recipe.

So, now you have something to bake the bread in after a few hours of letting yeast beasties party and a bowl to have the yeast party in. Start with

1 1/2 c water, mix in

1/2 tsp salt (not iodized), sprinkle on

1/4 tsp active dry yeast, let sink in for a minute or 2 then stir in

3 c flour

Cover with a damp tea towel and set aside to rise for at least 6-8 hours. Yup, that’s all it takes to make bread. Flour, water, yeast and sometimes a little salt. Amazing what nature has provided us with, taking elements that aren’t always very appetizing and making something gloriously yummy!

After waiting 6 hours or getting up and having breakfast and doing morning chores, maybe even 12 hours later, clean a spot on the table or counter (use simple water and soap, NOT anti-bacterial stuff that could kill your yeast!). Dry it off, sprinkle a good dusting of flour so it doesn’t stick and turn the dough out of the bowl onto the flour. Toss some flour on the top, dust your hands and start kneading. push in the middle with your left hand, grab the right side with your right hand, lift, fold, press with your left fist again. Repeat for a few minutes until it doesn’t stick anymore or you get tired. Don’t worry about over-kneading it, that’s really hard to do by hand and we modern people are usually too impatient/lazy/out of shape to do that.

Take another tea towel and flour 1/2 of it. Pick up the dough and form into a boule…basically turn the edges under until the top resembles a ball. Now put it on the floured 1/2 of the tea towel, dust with a bit of flour and cover with the other 1/2 of the towel. Let rise for about 2 hours or until doubled. After about an hour and 40 min, or 20 min before you’re ready to bake the bread, put the Dutch oven in the oven, turn on to 450 Fahrenheit and preheat. When it’s ready take the top off the Dutch oven and carefully pick up the towel with the bread and carefully turn it into the Dutch oven. Don’t worry if a little sticks to the towel, just tease it off but work fast…it’s HOT in the oven! If you want to spray or brush with butter, OK. Pouring a tablespoon or 2 of melted butter on will help keep the top crust soft-ish long enough to rise and as it melts around to the bottom it will make the bottom kind resemble a fried effect around the edge. You can also use bacon fat for a more rustic, out-doorsey flavour.

Bake for about 30 min or until golden brown. Check after 20 min or so. If it isn’t browning you can take the lid off. When done it will sound hollow when thumped on the bottom. Cool at least 15 min on a rack or propped up so the bottom doesn’t get soggy before cutting. Ok, cut right away and eat with butter, but you’ll find out that you really DO want to wait for the best fresh bread experience!

Alternatively you can butter 2 loaf pans and dust them with flour or corn meal. Instead of letting the dough rise on a tea towel divide the dough into 2 parts and put in the loaf pans to rise, covering with a damp tea towel. Put a pie tin full of salted water on the bottom shelf of the oven and pre-heat for 10-15 min. Let the dough rise about 2 hours or until doubled. Brush or spray with butter, slit the tops and bake for about 30 min at 450 Fahrenheit.

Experiment with different liquids and flours.  Milk, eggs, coffee, tea and beer are common. Whole wheat, rye, barley, rice, amaranth, and quinoa are fun to play with. To have enough gluten to get a good rise you’ll want to have at least 1/3 wheat flour in the mix. If you have left over mashed potatoes or other interesting mashed vegetables you can experiment by replacing one cup of flour with one cup of mashed vegis, but you’ll want to either adjust the flour or liquid too. You can also add a spoonful of honey, sugar, molasses or other sweet stuff to feed the yeast, but watch it…it may rise faster. A little melted butter or olive oil can help make the dough a little silkier. If you want to make a savory herbed bread try a tsp or so each of rosemary, oregano, basil, pepper or anything you fancy. If you want to try a sweet bread cinnamon, allspice, cloves and nutmeg are fun to play with along with the extra sweetener. Yummy! And easy bread for dinner!

The morning after, punched down

The morning after, punched down

Dropping onto lightly floured table

Dropping onto lightly floured table

Push...

Push…

Fold...repeat...

Fold…repeat…

Form into a ball

Form into a ball

Set on a lightly floured tea towell, cover
Set on a lightly floured tea towel, cover

Flop into the Dutch Oven

Flop into the Dutch Oven

Clost it up & bake for 30 min.

Close it up & bake for 30 min.

Fresh from the oven

Fresh from the oven

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