Ever since Janet showed up, I have had a lot of time to spend around the house. I’ve found that a good way to spend that time is honing a few recipes for bread and getting comfortable with the rising and kneading process. To me, it’s amazing how small changes to ratios and cooking time can make big changes to the flavor and texture of the bread. So far I’ve figured out a solid recipe for sandwich bread and also an Italian-style bread that’s great with a little olive oil for dipping.
Based on how the Italian loaf comes together, it has some potential to have other ingredients folded in for flavor. Sun dried tomatoes and kalamata olives both seemed like solid candidates, but I’ve seen those breads before. That’s no fun. So, I figured I would instead incorporate one of my favorite ingredients that has a bit of a bad reputation: anchovies.
First step was mixing a teaspoon of yeast with a little sugar and a cup of warm water. The main point of this was to make sure the half full yeast packet I had in my fridge for a week was still alive and well. While that sat for ten minutes I measured out my flour and prepped the anchovies.
Once most of the oil was off the anchovies, I restacked and diced them. I wanted the pieces to be small enough that the flavor would be evenly dispersed throughout the whole loaf and no bite would have a huge chunk of anchovy.
The flour and the ‘chovies were beaten into the now foaming yeast mixture and allowed to settle under the ever-important clean kitchen towel.
After 15 minutes, I stirred in an additional cup of flour and then tipped the extremely sticky dough out onto a heavily floured surface. As with the regular Italian loaf, over the course of the following 10-15 minutes of kneading, approximately an additional half cup of flour is folded in.
Once the dough was smooth and no longer sticky, it went into a lightly greased bowl under a kitchen towel to rise for a couple hours. The goal is for the dough to double in size, which looks like this:
At this point, I pulled the dough out of the bowl, deflated it (or punched it down), and kneaded it for another ten minutes. Then it went back into the bowl to rise for another hour or so. Once it had doubled again, the kneading process was repeated and I sprinkled a little cornmeal in the bottom of the Le Creuset Dutch oven. The dough was stretched into a long cylinder and laid in the base of the pot for one final rise.
After another 45 minutes, the loaf was ready for the oven.
The lid went onto the Le Creuset and went into a 450F oven.
While doing some online research early in the bread making craze of 2011, I saw a recommendation by Michael Ruhlman to use a Dutch oven when baking bread. It immediately made sense to me since I’ve always disliked homemade bread due to the hard thick crusts. By cooking inside the Dutch oven, the lid can be kept on through half or more of the cooking keeping the bread moist and avoiding the formation of a thick crust. It makes a huge difference.
After 20 minutes in the oven, I pulled the lid off of the Le Creuset to check on the loaf.
At this point it’s usually good to brush something on the crust to avoid it drying out. On the regular Italian loaves I use a little water, but since I knew this one wouldn’t be dipped in anything I went with olive oil. Once the surface had been brushed completely, it went back into the oven for 15 more minutes, leaving me with this.
After it cooled down a bit, I cut a couple slices off the end. I was pretty surprised to find that the anchovy flavor was very mild and not nearly as strong-flavored as I had hoped. Over the next couple days, I discovered that the bread’s flavor came out best when sliced and lightly toasted.
The texture of the bread was light and bubbly and the anchovy flavor came through best near the crusts. The oddest thing was that the crusts smelled a little like crisped asiago cheese when the bread was toasted. Never really figured that one out, but it didn’t take away from enjoying the bread.
If I made the loaf again I would likely use anchovy paste instead of the chopped anchovies since I think the flavor would come through a little stronger. It would probably be best used cut up and crisped as croutons, served with lightly grilled romaine and a lemony Ceasar dressing. Sounds delicious to me.
Not sure what I will do next week, but I haven’t been to the grocery store in over a week. Will come up with something.