One Perfect Loaf, of many!

KAF perfect loaf
I’m teaching a breadmaking class tomorrow night (if you’d like to come, you’re totally invited! It’s just at my house with some friends. Contact me and I’ll give you details!), so I’m wondering why I haven’t put more bread recipes up here on my blog! I’ve been making bread for about fifteen years, and sometimes I still feel like a complete novice, even though I probably make between 6-10 loaves a week. It’s just amazingly complex, and yet a complete surprise every time. Usually a delightful surprise! This is a loaf I was very committed to about a year ago. Now, I’m into a new recipe (which should be posted shortly) but there are so many ways you can go about making bread, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites.

This recipe comes from King Arthur Flour, which is such a great repository of baking knowledge and inspiration. I love the look of this loaf especially. It’s a little bit of a dazzler, and almost always gives you wings (the crust on the top that splits and sprays itself away from the loaf. Beautiful!). Anyway, their instructions are great and easy to follow, so I’ll include them here as well. This is King Arthur Flour’s definition of the perfect loaf of crusty bread. I’ll just add it to one of many that I love. I’ve changed their technique, because I didn’t want to use a bread machine, like they wrote the instructions for.

KAFs Perfect Crusty Loaf

THE SPONGE (BEGIN THE NIGHT BEFORE)

  • 1 cup cool water
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 1/4 cups Unbleached Bread Flour
  • 2 tablespoons 100% Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon semolina flour

THE DOUGH

  • 1 cup cool water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 3 1/2 cups Unbleached Bread Flour
  1. To make the sponge: Place all of the sponge ingredients in a bucket and stir well. Let the sponge rest at room temperature overnight, or for 8 to 12 hours.
  2. The next day, add all of the dough ingredients to the sponge in the bucket.  Mix it well with your hands to form first a soft mass, then eventually a ball that’s soft, but not overly sticky. Adjust with additional flour or water as necessary.
  3. Cover again and let it rest for 30 minutes. If you want to leave the dough all day, place it in a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and refrigerate it.
  4. When you’re ready to work with it, deflate the dough gently and form it into a round ball. Place the ball, seam side-down, on a cornmeal-dusted baking sheet.
  5. Cover the dough lightly. Let it rise a second time until it’s puffy and about 30% to 40% larger, about 1 hour (or longer, if the dough has been refrigerated). Don’t let it rise too much, since it rises some more in the oven and, if it’s over-proofed initially, it’ll collapse as it bakes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 475°F. Make several 1/4″ to 1/2″ slashes or crosshatches in top of the loaf. Using a clean plant mister, spritz the loaf with water. Spray some water into the oven, and place the bread on the lowest rack.
  7. Spritz the oven walls every few minutes for the first 15 minutes of baking. Lower the heat to 425°F (this reduction in heat mimics the “falling oven” used by brick-oven bakers, and will give your bread an incredible crust), and continue to bake until well-browned, about 35 minutes. The interior temperature of the bread should register at least 190°F on a digital thermometer. [I use a cloche or dutch oven instead of spritzing the loaf, and I remove the lid after 25 minutes.]
  8. Remove the bread from the oven, and cool it on a rack before slicing. 

Practically No-Knead Crusty Bread

No Knead Crusty Bread

 

Probably some of you have been acquainted with no-knead artisan bread, for which several recipes have been popping up for lately. The idea is that for very little work, you can make an incredible, Seven-Stars-Bakery-like loaf. And it’s true. But, there are many recipes out there with different tactics. This recipe lowers the water ratio from most of the other recipes, making the loaf much rounder, and adds vinegar, giving it a slight tang. It also adds beer to enhance the yeast flavor of the dough. It’s excellent and beautiful as it is, so I’m posting the original, but it’s also not a very large round, so I’m going to experiment with it a little to see if I can change ratios that will work better for what my family will eat in one sitting. I also either want the whole bottle of beer to be used in one loaf, or to eliminate the need for it (since no one here drinks it!). Anyway,  I’ll comment on how the experimenting goes!

Note: You need to have a dutch oven in order to get a truly crusty bread. A run-of the mill one will do (the type you’ve seen at campfires) as will Le Creuset’s or other cast-iron pots. Apparently, Target has a great Le Creuset knock-off line for a fraction of the cost. And, they come in great colors.

Practically No-Knead Crusty Bread

3 c. all-purpose flour (you can substitute 1 c. whole wheat flour for 1 c. all-purpose)
1/4 t. instant yeast (I always use 1/2 t. to get a better dome)
1 t. salt (I prefer 1 1/2 t.)
3/4 c. water, at room temperature
1/2 c. mild-flavored beer (non-alcoholic beer works well, too)
1 T. white vinegar

Whisk the flour, yeast, and salt together. Add the liquid ingredients and stir to combine (this dough is very dry, but make sure to combine the flour crumbs, using your hands if necessary, so there are no lumps in the dough). Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight 8-16 hours.

Place a piece of parchment paper in a 10-12″ skillet and spray with Pam. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 10-15 times until its smooth and round. Pull the dough into a tight ball by bringing all edges into the middle and pinching them together (this will be the bottom of the loaf). Place the loaf onto the parchment paper, and lightly cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Thirty minutes before baking, place a dutch oven on the bottom rack of your oven, with the lid on (make sure the lid has no plastic parts, or they will melt). Preheat the oven to 500 degrees (if possible :)). When loaf has finished rising, dust it with flour, make an “x” on the top with a very sharp knife, remove the lid to the dutch oven, and using the parchment paper as handles, lower the loaf into the dutch oven, keeping the parchment paper under the loaf. Cover with the lid, and then lower the temperature to 425 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on. Then, remove lid, and continue to bake for 20 minutes longer. You can then sit and marvel that you made, so simply, a gorgeous loaf of crusty bread.

Recipe from America’s Test Kitchen 2009 AnnualSliced No-Knead Artisand White Bread