Every time I bake bread I wonder why I don’t do so more often. The quality gap between Wonder Bread and the home baked variety is huge. But that smell, it’s almost reason enough for baking bread. It’s incredible. There’s a reason the bakery is placed near the grocery store entrance. The smell of baking bread makes you hungry and happy. Hungry happy customers buy more groceries. In fact, there’s some research indicating that the smell of baking bread might make you a better person. While that conclusion may be a load of horse hockey, the smell of baking bread is… it’s fricking great, okay? I’m too dumb to say it with the eloquence it deserves. Lastly, bread is easier to make than you think.
Bread Ratio 5:3, Flour:Water (Pinch of Salt and Yeast)
Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio was an eye opener. His love poem to homemade stock was one of the early inspirations that propelled me to become a better cook. More on that another day. Ratio is a book primarily about baking that demonstrates cooking can be easy. Many common baked goods have a “magic” ratio of liquids to fat to sugar, etc., that free a cook from recipes. You can make as little or as much of a product that your kitchen can handle. If you know that cookies are 1:2:3, sugar to fat to flour, you have the freedom and ease to bake a single cookie if you so desire. If you have a kitchen scale this process is extremely easy. You weigh everything in the same bowl zeroing the scale in between ingredients. Only have 300 grams of flour? Just follow the ratio. Add 150 grams of fat, and 100 grams of sugar and you have a basic cookie. Add some chopped nuts, some chocolate, candy, whatever sounds good. Eyeball it and get baking.
Jim Lahey, not of the Trailer Park Boys, popularized baking bread in Dutch ovens. Professional bakers use special ovens equipped with steam injectors. The addition of steam helps keep the outside of the dough from hardening too quickly during the rise. This helps ensure your crumb isn’t crap. The Dutch oven mimics this process by trapping steam generated from the dough early in the bake. It’s a great technique and it’s simple to do.
Salt: This will be a recurring theme in my posts: salt your food. The single biggest thing you can do to improve your cooking is to salt your food properly. For bread, depending on the style, aim for a salt content of around 1% - 2% the weight of the flour. If you get much below 1% your bread will taste like the prized loaves of Tuscany, which is to say, it’ll taste like crap. Do not serve Tuscan bread to your friends unless you hate them. Anyway, when your bread is finished baking, give it a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.
Rather than plagiarize Ruhlman, I’ll post his bread recipe below. Pick up his book Ratio. You will not be disappointed. If you don’t have a stand mixer, or even if you do, I highly recommend you try Jim Lahey’s no knead bread recipe. Let me know how it goes. Please use the comment section for questions and suggestions.
together rapidly. This dough can be kneaded by hand as well.) Continue mixing until your dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. To test your dough, pull off a chunk and stretch it into a square. If it's elastic enough to allow you to achieve a translucent sheet of dough, it's ready. If it tears before you can do this, continue mixing, either in the mixer or by hand, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Remove the mixing bowl from the machine, cover it with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise to about twice its size. Push a finger into the dough. The dough should give some resistance, but not spring back. If it springs back, let it rest longer. If you let your dough rise for too long, it will feel flabby and loose when you press a finger into it and will be less eager to rise when you bake it.
Preheat your oven to 450°F (preferably 45 minutes before baking)
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it to expel excess gas and redistribute the yeast. Cover with a dish towel and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Shape the dough into a boule by pushing the dough back and forth on the counter in a circular motion until you have a round smooth ball.
Bake for 10 minutes at 450°F, then reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and continue baking until 30 total minutes bake time and remove Dutch oven lid. Continue baking until done, 45 to 50 minutes.
This post turned out to be nothing more than a longwinded recommendation. Try baking bread in a Dutch oven. That’s all it should have said. It’s a damn good recommendation, though. Give it a go and let me know how you like that dough. Boom!
Dinner & a Movie
Bringing you food and drinks so that you can make movie night that much more delicious.
"Food is essential for life; therefore make it good"
Shannon does it Julie & Julia style as she cooks through a cookbook and shares thoughts and recipes along the way.