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The Recorder - Easy, delicious HOMEMADE BREAD



Until a few months ago, I assumed that bread came from two places: either the corner store or a bread-making
appliance.

Of these options, I most often purchased bread from the store because of its convenience and quality. Comparatively, bread makers were intimidating to use and, as an apartment dweller, a waste of valuable space (how often would I really use it?).

Enter the Dutch oven, which has enhanced my life in so many ways.

A friend gave it to my wife (Brianna) and me about a year and a half ago as a wedding present. Initially, because we camped often, we enjoyed cooking with it over the fire, a practice I’ve written about often on these pages. From jambalaya to breakfast foods, the Dutch oven dramatically expanded my culinary horizons.

Most importantly, cooking with cast iron in a camp setting showed me that I didn’t have to be constrained to a recipe — lacking the variety of ingredients I’d typically have in a kitchen, I was forced to substitute. In so doing, I learned their properties. That, in turn, enabled me to begin cooking artistically, crafting flavor based on my own palate instead of instructions created by someone else.

The carryover has been profound, and today, I cook often and entirely by taste.

Still, I didn’t make bread.

Yes, I dabbled in baking — the occasional cupcake, a sub-par attempt at holiday sugar cookies (also documented here in a previous edition). Similar to what had previously stood in the way of my regular culinary practice, I was intimidated by baking instructions. As someone who has never colored inside the lines, recipes feel like a prison; I’ve always found the term ‘exact science’ to be stress-inducing.

Again, the Dutch oven changed my perspective.

After reading one of my previous “Camp Food” entries, my editor, Joan Livingston, mentioned that, while she’d never tried cooking with cast iron over a fire, she occasionally baked bread with it. My interest was piqued and, after reading a little bit online, I found a simple recipe that only called for four ingredients: bread flour; warm water; salt; active dry yeast.

My inaugural attempt at homemade Dutch oven bread blew my preconceptions out of the water. It was savory and soft; crunchy and decadent. The outside is crispy and crackly while the inside stays firm and moist. It’s an absolutely perfect addition to a home-cooked dinner.

Since baking that first bread, I’ve massaged the recipe I found online based on my own preference — specifically, I add an extra half-teaspoon of salt, let the yeast rise for a few hours longer than is called for, punch the bread and knead it a little bit more and add about five or 10 minutes to the bake time. This makes the crust a little bit crispier and gives the crumb, or the inside part of the bread, a little more flavor. In time, I’ve also learned that making bread isn’t like baking cupcakes — it’s a nuanced art that requires patience, creativity and passion, not just a penchant to follow instructions.

Homemade Crispy Dutch Oven Bread

This bread is so delicious that I’ve had to put a cap on how often I bake it. It’s just Bri and me at home and, unchecked, we’ll eat an entire loaf in one sitting. So, I only make it these days for special occasions, potlucks or the monthly poker and game nights my friends and I host. Enjoy, and, please, feel free to make this recipe your own — add or take away based on your palate. Notably, the original recipe that I adapted was created by Pat DiMercurio and published on justapinch.com. She, in turn, adapted the recipe from a site called Simply So Good.

3 cups bread flour

1 ½ cups warm water

1 teaspoon active dry yeast

2 teaspoons salt

One day in advance, whisk together the bread flour with the salt and yeast in a 3- to 4-quart bowl with a tight-fitting lid (a bowl covered with plastic wrap will also work). Add the water and stir well, making sure that all the dry ingredients are mixed into the water. It’s going to look a little mangy, that’s to be expected. Set the bowl aside in room temperature for 15 to 18 hours (24 hours overnight is fine; err on the longer side). The original recipe called for 12 to 18 hours. Through experimentation, I’ve found that 12 hours isn’t enough time. If it’s not allowed sufficient time to rise, the bread will be too dense.

The following day, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it’s reached the right temperature, put the Dutch oven pot and lid inside the oven and allow it to heat up for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, sprinkle a decent amount of the bread flour onto a flat and clean surface. Then, punch the risen dough in the bowl (compress it with a fist) and gently pull it away from the sides, folding it in on itself.

Knead the dough a few times on the flour-covered surface. To ensure the dough is ready, push a finger into the side. If it pops back out quickly and completely, it’s good to go. Finally, sprinkle flour on the top.

Once the Dutch oven is hot, remove the cover and put the bread inside. Bake it covered for 30 minutes. The heat will bake the dough from the inside out. Then, take off the cover and allow it to bake uncovered for an additional 15 minutes in order to crisp the crust.

Shake the bread onto a surface and inhale the tantalizing aroma and incredible flavor of homemade bread.

Andy Castillo is the features editor at the Greenfield Recorder. He can be reached at acastillo@recorder.com.



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