My bread baking weekend started because I wanted a ham sandwich… on fresh bread.
But this really isn’t about the sandwich. It’s really all about the baguette. I ran to the store in the morning, but was just too early, because they really didn’t have any baked goods out yet. I walked around the bakery, probably three times… knowing that there weren’t any baguettes, but hoping that there was a chance that I just wasn’t seeing them, and a basket of them would miraculously appear. It didn’t.
I could have gone back to the store later in the day, but I knew that it wouldn’t happen. Once I’m done shopping, I’m done shopping. I don’t want to go back.
Silly me. I don’t know why I never think of this, and I think I need to get better at remembering…but I realized that I could just make my own, and throw a couple of loaves in the oven! Now, you have to remember that I’m just a home cook, and that it took me a whole week of practice just to get the dutch oven bread recipe down. I’m not some professional artisan bread baker, I’m just me… so this is just a simple bread. But that doesn’t matter. I love bread, no matter how simple it is!
Let’s just call this particular recipe Lazy Prudy’s recipe. It’s just a matter of throwing the ingredients into the bowl, and letting the mixer do the rest. I let the bread hook in my stand mixer do most of the kneading for me, but then knead it by hand for about a minute or two. It doesn’t take long to prepare, but you do need about an hour to let it proof, and then another hour to let it rise again after you’ve shaped it into loaves.
So, here is what I’ve learned about baking bread…at least the way my little brain understands it. First, you don’t want to let the dough over proof. Just let it double in size, but not too much more than that. If it has doubled in size, you’ll still be able to poke it, and your finger mark will slowly pop back out, and when you take it out of the bowl, it will still be a nice ball of dough. If you’ve let it rise too much, your finger print will stay put, and then when you go to take it out of the bowl, it will be sticky and stuck to the bowl. I usually let it go about an hour, but not much more than that. Now don’t get me wrong, you can still bake an over-poofed loaf of bread, but there’s a good chance it’s going to be a little flatter than normal.
Slit the bread open carefully. Use a sharp razor, and hold it at a slant as you slice into the bread, and don’t slice it too deep. You’re basically starting the bread off with a place for the goodness to expand the first few minutes that it’s in the oven.
And finally, crusty bread loves a steamy oven, so a cup of water thrown into a heated metal pan in the bottom of the oven will produce the perfect amount of steam the bread needs. What happens here, is that the steam keeps the crust of the bread pliant, so when the yeast gives its very last push, the crust will still move with the dough, letting it rise higher while it bakes. As the water evaporates, the oven gets dryer, and the crust begins to harden into that crispy goodness that we all love!
I ended up making six loaves that day, partly because I love fresh bread, but mostly because I was enjoying myself. The smell of fresh bread baking in the oven is pure aroma therapy, isn’t it? But pure mental happiness, at least for me, is a warm slice of bread straight from the oven….and I’m not going to lie… with a generous slather of butter!
Life is good. It’s a “I truly believe that everyone should bake at least one loaf of bread in their lifetime… if for nothing else, but to experience the smell of fresh bread coming from their very own oven!” kind of good.
- ½ cup warm water
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 2 tsp yeast
- 4¼ cups all purpose flour
- 1½ tsp sea salt
- 1 cup water
- Generously grease a large bowl with olive oil.
- Pour ½ cup hot water into the bowl of your stand mixer. Add the sugar and stir it around. Add the yeast, and let it enjoy the sugar until it turns all foamy and happy. Add the flour, sea salt, and water to the yeast mixture.
- Using the dough hook of your mixer, start mixing until all of the ingredients are combined. Increase the speed of your mixer to medium (or about 4 on a KitchenAid).
- Let the hook knead the dough for about five minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, and place on a floured surface. Knead by hand for about two minutes. You'll know its ready for proofing when it feels smooth and silky. Form into a ball, and place in the greased bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean towel, and place in a warm spot in your kitchen. Let sit for about an hour. You know that the dough will be ready when it has almost doubled in size, and your finger print will slowly pop back out when you gently poke the dough.
- Place a metal cake pan or cast iron skillet on the bottom shelf of your oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Bring back to the floured surface, and cut the dough in half. Shape into loaves, about 12" - 14". Place both loaves onto a cookie sheet, and cover with a towel. Let sit for about ½ hour to 45 minutes.
- Using a razor blade, carefully make slits in the top of the loaves, holding the razor at a diagonal. Make sure that you don't cut too deep. You just want to help the dough to open up so that it can release the gases that are bubbling inside.
- Right before you put the loaves into the oven to bake, add one cup of hot water to the heated pan or skillet. This will create a steam inside the oven that will help the bread to stay pliant as it rises. Place the bread into the oven, and don't open the door for at least 20 minutes.
- Let the bread bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, and remove when it is golden brown, and tapping on the bottom creates a hollow sound.
- Normally I'd say something like "cool completely"... but in this case, slather it with butter, and enjoy!