Sometimes in life it is really all about the bread.
After a period of time where we were low carb or no carb, we are back to eating more of the healthier choices in the carb world, including fresh baked bread. I haven’t made bread in years – it was either when we were living near Lake Tahoe or before that when we were in Napa. As a result I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the process and I also realized how much more I know about the chemistry and mechanics of “building” bread.
The Basic Recipe for Bread
All breads evolve from this basic formula – variations will include adding different enhancements to flavor or transform from basic white bread to something else.
Water – filtered or bottled: 12 oz (1 1/2 cups)
Bread Flour – not All purpose or pastry – a high protein bread flour – my preference is King Arthur Organic Bread Flour – a note here to remind everyone that measuring by volume is subject to the temperatures and humidity level of your particular area and bag of flour – start with 3 cups and be prepared to add up to 1 more cup.
Yeast – I prefer SAF Instant – doesn’t require the water to be warm or the exercise of proofing – also instant yeast has the best result for growth – 2 tbsp (that is tablespoons).
Malt Syrup – without getting into the chemistry of this it is the best way to feed the yeast and have it form tiny bubbles in your dough instead of large bubbles – 2 tbsp (dip your measuring spoon in grape seed or other oil first and it won’t stick).
Salt – necessary for the taste and, in spite of massive information to the contrary, does absolutely nothing to inhibit the yeast – 1/2 tsp (teaspoon).
Oil – I like grape seed oil for most cooking – alternatives are coconut oil or olive oil – I don’t like most of the other “cooking” oils – 2 tbsp.
We have a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer – while not an absolutely necessary piece of equipment, the alternative is, or can be, a great deal of physical labor in kneading.
Add all the basic ingredients to the work bowl and mix at low speed using your dough hook. Mixing can take 5 minutes or more and this is the time during which you will be adding that “additional” flour by the tablespoon. When you have reached the proper mix, the dough will be one pliable mass and not stick to the bottom of the work bowl. Take your time with this, less is better than more. After the dough has transformed into the wonderful pliable mass, move the speed to medium and let it work for 15 minutes. If you are working your dough by hand, then this is a process of 30 to 45 minutes of hard physical labor to knead and work your dough.
The First Rise
Dough must be given time to grow into the amazing delight it will become. I use an oven, turn it on the lowest setting for a few minutes until it is “warm” not hot. For the dough to rise I use a crock bowl and coat the entire inside with oil. Remove your dough from the mixer and put on a lightly floured board to make into a ball. Place the ball in the oiled bowl and cover with a towel and put in the warm oven for an hour – make sure the oven is OFF.
The Second Rise
After the hour of first rise, dump your dough onto the floured board and “punch” down to remove the bubbles. Form into a ball and return to the bowl and make sure the outside is still oiled. Cover with the towel and put back into the warm oven.
The Final Rise and Bake
This is also your final prep. Dump the dough ball on your floured board and form into a proper round ball. Place a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet or other flat item (this will serve as your peel) and sprinkle a tablespoon of course corn meal on to the parchment paper. Put your ball of dough on the parchment and cover with plastic wrap. After 30 minutes put your stone (pizza stone works) in the oven and turn the temperature to 475. If you have a cast iron skillet put it on the bottom of the oven empty. In 15 minutes more make a pattern of “cuts” in the top of your dough with a sharp knife and brush the entire top with a slurry of cornstarch and water. Gently slide the parchment and dough onto the stone and reduce the temperature to 425. Dump a cup of water in the hot cast iron to create steam and close the oven. Do not open the oven door for 30 minutes, then check the bread to make sure the top is brown. If not brown, then wait 5 minutes more.
Remove the parchment and bread to a cooling rack for 30 minutes.