Sunday, January 27, 2008

hearty homemade bread

homemade bread


I have fond memories of making bread with my mother when I was a little girl. She would place a step-up stool next to the counter so I could reach the big, wooden baking board and let me sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. I would exclaim that it smelled stinky!

I suspect that I caused more trouble than good, getting flour everywhere and slowing down the whole baking process. Mom would let me punch at the dough like a prize-fighter since my little hands couldn't properly knead the dough. No electric mixers or bread machines for us! White bread in loaf pans, brown bread in coffee cans, go down for a nap and wake up to the bread miraculously done, ready to be eaten.

This recipe makes a very dense, hearty bread. Pair it with stew or think "slather" when considering topping it with any spreads.


Hearty Homemade Bread

Sponge:
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water (110F)
1 package active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Dough:
1 cup warm water (110F)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons kosher salt
~3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon olive oil

To make sponge:
In large glass bowl, dissolve sugar in warm water. Sprinkle yeast over sugar water and allow to sit for 5 minutes, or until yeast is foamy. Stir in flour until a smooth, stiff batter forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow to proof for 6-8 hours at room temperature (70F) or place in refrigerator for 12-14 hours.

To make dough:
Add water, 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and 3 cups of flour to sponge and stir until the flour has been absorbed. Transfer dough to floured surface and knead for 15 minutes, adding additional flour only if dough is too sticky. The dough will want to stick to your hand but it should pull away towards itself instead.

Grease clean bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place dough in bowl, turning to coat surface with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, around 2 hours.

Turn risen dough out onto floured surface and knead for about a minute. Divide dough in half and form each half into a round loaf. Place loaves on an ungreased baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap or damp towel and allow to rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425F. Remove plastic wrap/towel and make a few slashes with a knife on the tops of the loaves. Bake loaves for 30-40 minutes, or until loaves are golden brown and make a hollow sound when gently tapped on the bottom. Remove to wire racks and allow to cool before slicing.

Makes 2 ~8-inch diameter loaves.

*****


If you want a darker crust, brush the loaves with milk or an egg wash (one egg beaten with a tablespoon of water, milk or cream) before baking.

You may freeze one of the loaves if you like. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and then in aluminum foil. To thaw the loaf, unwrap and allow to thaw on the counter. Or wrap loaf in aluminum foil and heat in a 325F oven for 15 minutes, remove foil and leave in oven for 5 more minutes.

Feel free to add herbs (rosemary, thyme, chives, etc.), olives, carmelized onions, pancetta, etc. If using dried herbs, add them at the same time as the oil and salt. Other add-ins can be incorporated after the 2-hour rise and before forming the loaves.

homemade bread


More pictures at Flickr