Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fresh Baked Boules

Of all the man made creations, there are few that rival bread. This category encompasses everything from the baguette to wonder bread. A miracle of nature, wild yeast propagated mixtures of flour and water for thousands of years, leaving superstitious bakers to wonder which God let their bread rise. Although I will be doing a post on using wild yeasts to leaven your bread soon, let's start with perhaps the simplest loaf you can make: a rustic boule with no kneading involved. Think about it: commercial mixers have been around for scant a century, and people have been making bread for several millenniums. Sure, people needed bread, but often they just allowed the bread to sit and naturally develop gluten through long slow rises, producing a chewy and slightly sour flavor that is perfect on its own.

In a bowl mix:

-2 cups whole wheat flour and 1 cup AP flour (I suppose bread flour would be better but I don't have any)
-1/4 tsp instant AKA rapid rise yeast
-1 1/2 tsp salt

In a small bowl or large liquid measuring cup mix:

-1 1/4 cup warm water OR 3/4 cup warm water and 1/2 cup mild crappy lager beer (This is the Cooks Illustrated method, which is good, but I rarely have a beer like this open, and usually don't want to open one just to make bread. I have made it with the beer and didn't feel like it made that big a difference in the flavor but YMMV)
-a good squeeze of honey
-2-3 tablespoons white vinegar

Mix the wet into the dry until a shaggy ball appears and cover with plastic wrap and let sit 8-18 hours.

2. Lay 12- by 18-inch sheet of parchment paper inside 10-inch skillet and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead 10 to 15 times. Shape dough into ball by pulling edges into middle. Transfer dough, seam-side down, to parchment-lined skillet and spray surface of dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with finger, about 2 hours.

3. About 30 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place 6- to 8-quart heavy-bottomed Dutch oven (with lid) on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or sharp knife, make one 6-inch-long, 1/2-inch-deep slit along top of dough. Carefully remove pot from oven and remove lid. Pick up dough by lifting parchment overhang and lower into pot (let any excess parchment hang over pot edge). Cover pot and place in oven. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 210 degrees, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove bread from pot; transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.

Good luck, once you get the hang of it, it's really easy! Also if you're intereted in slashing, the secret is right before you put it in the dutch oven, rub flour all over the top of the loaf THEN slash and that's how you'll get a great looking top.