Remember when you made granola a few weeks ago and it quickly replaced your store bought granola? Well this week we're tackling bread and why you shouldn't be afraid to bake your own.
I'll be honest, I'm no bread baking expert. Which is why I'm the perfect person to convince you to begin baking your own. If I can bake my own and be rewarded with beautiful loaves that are crispy and crackly on the outside and chewy and lovely on the inside, you can too!
I used to be terrified of baking anything that involved yeast. Reading long recipes with instructions on feeding a starter and complicated kneading processes scared me from even attempting it. But once I discovered Jim Lahey and began working from home*, I began baking my own bread.
So Jim Lahey? Founder of the famous Sullivan Street Bakery and the revolutionary, no-knead bread making method? He has changed my life. Changed it. He's made it simple and easy for all of us to achieve that artisan bread that we love so much. His recipes are all over the Internet, so a simple search will give you a variety of recipes. Below I'm sharing my favorite recipe with a few modifications of what works best for me. If you try this recipe and love it as much as I do, I encourage you to pick up Lahey's book, My Bread.
First things first, you need a bit of equipment before you begin. Most important, a bread baking vessel. If you're the lucky owner of a Le Creuset dutch oven, you're way ahead of the game! If you don't own a Le Creuset but have another cast iron enameled pot, perfect. If you don't own a cast iron enameled pot and don't want to shell out the cash, a clay baker such as the one by La Cloche will run you about $40, which is definitely worth the money. Lahey recommends a 4 1/2 - 5 quart pot. I cook my bread in a Le Creuset 4 1/2-quart round oven**. This pan is an investment but worth its weight in gold when you find yourself using it day after day. This is the only equipment you need to make the recipe below, but there are a couple other handy items you might want to invest in that will ensure great results every time:
- Kitchen Scale: I use mine everyday. It makes measuring ingredients a cinch! (I recommend the Escali model.)
- Thermometer: Perfect way to check and ensure your bread is finished baking.
- Oven Thermometer: Most ovens run a little hotter or cooler than the knob reads. Stick one of these in your oven and it will guarantee better results for cooking and baking. (We have a magnetic one like this.)
- A serrated knife (bread knife): Essential for cutting slices of bread.
Whole Wheat Bread
2 1/4 cups (300 grams) bread flour***
3/4 cup (100 grams) whole wheat flour
1 1/4 teaspoons (8 grams) table salt
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) instant or other active dry yeast****
1 1/3 cups (300 grams) cool (55 to 65 degrees F) water
additional flour for dusting
1. In a medium bowl, stir together flours, salt, and yeast. Add the water and mix for about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.
2. When the first rise is complete, generously dust your work surface with flour. Scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using lightly floured hands, lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck the edges to make it round. When you turn it over, you should have a smooth ball of dough.
3. Cut a piece of parchment paper and lay it over a 10 to 12 inch skillet pan. Lightly spray parchment with cooking spray. Then place the dough on the parchment and cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap that has also been lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Place the pan in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours (I put mine on top of my refrigerator). The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.
4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise, in your oven, position the rack in the lower third and place your covered heavy pot in the center of the rack. Preheat your oven to 475 degrees. Set a cooling rack next to your oven.
5. After the oven has preheated for 30 minutes, with pot holders, pull the pot out of the oven and place the lid on the cooling rack. Very gently and quickly invert your dough into pot, seam side up. Place the lid back on top of the pot and slide back in to the oven. Bake for 30 minutes.
6. Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, an additional 15-30 minutes more. Your bread should register at 210 degrees when it is finished baking. Use a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula to carefully lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly. Be sure to let your pot cool fully before washing.*****
This bread will keep well for 2-4 days. We usually store ours in wax paper or a paper bag at room temperature. Storing the bread in plastic will make it tough and rubbery.
*If you have a Le Creuset pan, be sure to pick up a stainless steel knob to place on your pan. This handle will hold up better in your very hot oven.
**Don't be deterred if you work outside the home! You can still bake your bread in the evenings after work or on the weekends.
***I can't recommend King Arthur flour enough.
****I use SAF Instant Yeast and keep it in a sealed container in our refrigerator. You can purchase this yeast at Whole Foods, Wegmans, or online. This yeast can be used with water at any temperature. More readily available is Active Dry Yeast which I also keep in the refrigerator. Please note if you use active dry yeast, you need to use warm water (120-130 degrees) instead of cool water. I do not recommend buying yeast in small packets.
*****If I'm on top of my game, I will have another lump of dough ready to drop in the hot pot after taking one loaf out. After the bread is fully cooled, you can wrap it in plastic wrap, then foil, and freeze. When you want to eat the frozen loaf, thaw at room temperature and pop in the oven for 10 minutes to warm it up.