Friday, April 24, 2009

Bread My Way

by Birch

There is a certain satisfaction to kneading bread until it’s smooth as a baby’s cheek—which is exactly what you’d want to do with heavier loaves like whole wheat or pumpernickel. But lately, I’ve begun using a new technique that suits our lives and results in surprisingly ethereal little loaves. I keep them on the smaller side because the wet dough is hard to manage in bigger volumes and the shorter time in the oven keeps the crust thin and crisp. When we want a relatively quick, soul-satisfying bread for lunch, I can mix this up after breakfast and get some work down while it rises and bakes. It is an easy three-step process:

Step One:
Measure two cups of water into a large clean mixing bowl—one pound by weight a kitchen scale if you wish to be exact, precision counts for this one. Sprinkle two teaspoons instant dry yeast into the water, one-and-a-half teaspoons salt, and a teaspoon of sugar. Stir to mix. Using a kitchen scale, measure out twenty ounces of unbleached, white flour (we always use King Arthur). Add the flour to the water and stir the whole sticky mess with a wooden spoon until all the flour and water are fully incorporated. Scrape the spoon clean with a plastic scraper, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rise about an hour-and-a-half.

Step Two:
Dust a wood board with flour and turn the dough out onto the board. It will be very wet and sticky. This is the blob-from-outer-space stage. Flour your hands and give the dough a few quick turns and flips around the board, using a metal dough scraper to help lift the dough from the board. Resist the urge to flour anything more than your hands: Sticky is good for this style of bread. Shape the dough into a log about twelve inches long and cut into about four equal-sized pieces. Shape the cut pieces gently into rounds and dust the tops lightly with flour cover with a clean tea towel. Let rest for an hour.

Step Three:
Preheat your oven as hot as it will go—450 or 500 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Cut each round in half with your dough scraper. Gently transfer each piece to the parchment-lined baking sheet. You should have eight half-moons of dough. Cover with a tea towel to let the dough rest from all this handling, about twenty or thirty minutes. After the dough has rested and your oven is preheated, remove the tea-towel, dock the loaves with a sharp razor if you wish, then bake the half-moons for about twelve to fifteen minutes, or until just barely golden or internal temperature reaches 200 degrees. Let cool and devour or slice in half to use for sandwiches.


Stephanie said...

Cool! I would like to try to make one. Looking soft and nice. TQ for this recipe. Found your blog through Blotanical. I hope you have enjoyed the many gardening blogs there. Have a wonderful evening!

Pleasant Hill said...

Thanks for posting this great recipe, Birch. I followed your directions and out of the oven came eight pillowy soft and delicious rolls. Two were gobbled up within minutes and their compatriots will be lucky to last until dawn.

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