My travels over the past month, on top of Janet becoming more active and not sleeping much during the day, has cut into my bread making a bit. But, I ended up making a couple loaves of bread for my neighbors this week and decided it was time to share the recipes I’ve been honing for the past few months.
First up is Pete’s Sandwich Bread. The bread is based off of a Michael Ruhlman recipe that included some very helpful cooking tips. When I first started making it, the bread was dry, spongy and the crust was a little tough to get through.
My first attempt. Looked decent initially, but as you can imagine a PB&J on this bread was not as enjoyable as a good old slice of Wonder Bread
A few adjustments to the mix/amount of ingredients, and cooking technique has improved it greatly; it’s soft enough to be enjoyable eaten with cold sandwiches but it’s even better when toasted. Here’s what you’ll knead (wokka wokka):
1+ teaspoon yeast (I like adding a little more than a teaspoon)
2+ teaspoons of salt (to taste)
5 cups all purpose flour (minus 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons vital gluten flour
12 ounces of water
1/2 tablespoon salted butter
(Oh, and a 9-quart dutch oven and Kitchenaid mixer with a dough hook too. If you don’t have those, feel free to scroll down to the dippin’ bread recipe that doesn’t require them)
Quick note on the vital gluten flour (VGF). This is the same stuff I made seitan with a few months ago, but it’s also what is used to make all-purpose flour into “bread flour”. If you buy bread flour, every cup includes about a tablespoon of VGF which helps add a little moisture and chewiness to cooked bread. I like using AP flour and VGF separately instead of just bread flour since it allows me to control how chewy the texture of the bread will be. For sandwich loaves I like less than a tablespoon per cup; with other loaves I like a tablespoon or more.
Enough of that, back to the recipe. Mix all ingredients in the Kitchenaid mixer with a dough hook for about ten minutes on low speed.
Every time I make this I anxiously check every minute nervous that all of the flour won't be incorporated and will be stuck along the edges, yet every time it ends up coming together
The goal is to have the dough ball fully incorporate all flour.
I probably herky-jerkily paced the kitchen complaining to Kristi that the dough "would never come together" and that the Kitchenaid mixer, "is probably broken" before checking again at ten minutes and finding this
Remove dough from mixing bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Knead dough a few times until you have a relatively dense, smooth elastic dough ball. Place in a bowl (I usually pick a fresh ceramic bowl instead of the mixing bowl) and cover with a kitchen towel to rise. Rising usually takes 2-4 hours, depending on the temperature in your home (low/mid 70s works well), and you should be looking for the dough to approximately double in size.
Once the dough has doubled, punch it down and tip it out onto the same lightly floured surface.
If you've been anxiously waiting for a progress report, I've made it through roughly 20 pounds of the 25 pound bag of flour I bought at Costco 3 months ago. Bread has been my go-to item to bring whenever we visit people
Knead the dough again for a few minutes before using your fists to press and flatten the dough. I use my hands for this part, but I guess a roller could be utilized as well.
On the other hand (I am like a shotgun filled with puns today), I would guess there is still 1.95 pounds of yeast in the two pound bag I bought at the same time as the flour. Still saved money, but there is no way I get even a quarter of the way into the bag before it's unusable
The goal is to stretch it into a ~6” x 18” rectangle of relatively uniform thickness. Once it’s about the right shape, cover with the aforementioned kitchen towel and let rest ten minutes.
This is the right shape
While the flattened dough rests, grease the inside of a 10″ loaf pan with a little olive oil and get out your dutch oven. The importance of the dutch oven, which was the key Ruhlman trick, is that it allows the bread to cook without the crust getting too thick and dying out. It makes a huge difference and separates the bread I’ve made recently from every dry homemade bread I’ve had before.
Once the 10 minutes is up, fold the long side of the dough on itself and press together with the heel of your hand, pinching along the edges as well.
Probably not the most necessary action shot to explain what folding is, but I was amazed how uninformative and confusing bread recipes are without pictures
Starting with the 6″ x 18″ flat piece, three folds should get you to about a 10″ rolled shape with a little shaping along the way. Place the dough roll inside the loaf pan inside the a dutch oven and cover with a towel to rise for at least an hour.
I usually put the side that has a seam from the final fold on the bottom
Once the dough has doubled again and mostly fills the loaf pan, cut a slash about 1/4″ deep down the entire length of the loaf.
That's some good slashin'
Put the lid on the dutch oven and place inside an oven that has been preheated to 450F. Once in the oven, immediately decrease the heat to 350F and set the timer to 45 minutes. When 45 minutes is up, pull the dutch oven and remove the lid, which should look something like this:
The first fragrance manufacturer that can nail the smell of baking bread will corner the market on perfume for women who want to attract obese men
After testing a few variations of lid-on/lid-off cooking times as well as what to brush on the bread when the lid comes off, I settled on 45 minutes and a little bit of melted butter. I usually put a pat of butter, less than a half tablespoon, in the microwave for fifteen seconds then brush it all over the surface of the loaf before putting it back in the oven with the lid off for 15 more minutes.
At this point I know my bread is cooked through after an hour in my oven, but every oven is a little different. A good way to test if the bread is ready is to place a meat thermometer in the center of the loaf; if its 200F or higher, the bread is ready. At which point it should be removed from the oven and tipped out of the loaf pan onto a rack to cool.
Little different from the first batch
I like to tap the bottom and sides of the bread to test its density but the most important thing with this type of bread is to wait for it to cool completely before cutting into it. But, once it’s cooled, go nuts.
When you've made this a few times, you look for some nice non-uniform air bubbles that keep the bread light and soft
The bread is soft but not as questionably fluffy as some of the store bought varieties. Due to the amount of salt I add, you might notice a little more salt than most breads, but it makes the bread better in my opinion. Well worth trying on your own.
Next up is Pete’s Dippin’ Bread. I wish I had a better name for it, but I really don’t. At one point in time it was 1/3 of an Italian bread recipe I found online, but I’ve made a lot of changes since then and I can’t really call it an Italian bread anymore. So, let’s go with Dippin’ Bread since it’s always best when served with a little olive oil for dipping. Agreed?
For the purposes of this blog post, I will give the recipe for my roasted garlic and herb loaf, though other ingredients can be inserted instead of the garlic and herbs and the other proportions stay the same. Aside from the one shown, I have made it with kalamata olives, roasted tomatoes/garlic/anchovies/capers (my puttanesca bread), and just anchovies as discussed previously.
Here’s the ingredients:
1 cup warm water (100F)
1/2 teaspoon white sugar
1+ teaspoon active dry yeast
1+ teaspoon salt
3+ cups all purpose flour (minus 3 tablespoons)
3 tablespoons vital gluten flour
1 tablespoon corn meal
6 cloves of roasted garlic (roast by lightly covering with olive oil, wrapping in foil and baking at 300F for an hour)
1-2 tablespoons of herbs (to taste; dried or fresh, I use dried herbs de provence or occasionally chopped fresh thyme leaves)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
Mix sugar, water, and yeast in a mixing bowl and let sit for 5-10 minutes. You want the water to foam a bit to prove that the yeast is still living. I skip this step consistently with my sandwich bread, but always do it with this bread. Not sure why.
Whisk in 1-1/3 cups of flour, chopped roasted garlic, herbs, red pepper and continue whisking until fully mixed. Cover with a fresh kitchen towel (I gots a whole stack that I keep around for this process) and let rest for 15 minutes.
I always wait until the batter has rested before adding the salt. Not sure why, I think I have a fear that the salt will kill the yeast, which is likely completely irrational
Stir in the salt and a cup of the remaining flour and continue stirring until fully incorporated and the dough is too thick to stir anymore. Take the remaining 2/3 cup of flour and put a heavy covering on the surface you will be kneading on. Keep the remaining flour close by to add as the flour on the counter is incorporated. Once that’s done tip the dough out onto the flour and scrape any pieces stuck to the sides of the bowl out as well.
Much more wet than the sandwich loaf dough when it came out of the bowl, hence all of the extra flour that needs to be incorporated by kneading
Start kneading the dough and incorporating the flour. This can be a little tough since the dough will be sticking to your hands and fingers at first. It helps to keep a lot of flour on your hands and around the dough. Continue kneading in flour until the dough no longer sticks to the counter, usually about 5-10 minutes. Place dough ball into a greased bowl, cover with towel, and let double in size.
Once doubled (about 2-3 hours), remove from the bowl and knead a few times on a flour dusted surface. Place dough ball back in the bowl, cover, and let rise.
Once doubled again, remove and repeat the kneading process. Once dough is smooth and ball shaped, take out a 4-5 quart heavy bottomed/lidded pot and coat the bottom with a little olive oil and a sprinkle of corn meal.
By the time this heads into the oven, the fully risen dough will be to the edges of the pot and puffed up in height a bit as well
Once risen, usually around 90 minutes later but doesn’t hurt to let it go longer, slash the top in a cross pattern cutting about 1/4″ deep. Then put the lid on the pot and place in a preheated 450 F oven.
Cook for 15 minutes with the lid on, remove from oven, and brush top with a little liquid. I’ve used water before, which makes the crust a little bland, and olive oil tends to make it too crispy. Lately I’ve been going with a 50/50 mix of water and olive oil with a little salt, which comes out pretty dece.
Cook an additional 15-20 minutes with the lid off until golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool. It will be very hot, but if you tap the bottom of the bread it should have a slightly hollow sound.
Sometimes it pays to be Pete's neighbor
That’s about it. Pretty long recipe post. Basic bread making (I certainly do not consider my skills anywhere beyond basic) is a good skill to learn and is fun to mess around with. It definitely takes a few tries to get the hang of but your bread will come out better with every iteration. Final note: it does take some time to make bread, usually 6-7 hours, but you’re only actively working for 30-45 minutes of that. Its a great activity for fall/winter weekends, so give it a shot if you get bored.