Tuesday, August 16, 2011

There's Nothing Like the Smell of Freshly Baked Bread

Hello Everyone! Or should I say, "is anybody out there??" :) It has been a little while since my last post because I was on vacation! The kids and I had a great time visiting with family and friends last week. I was also able to stop by Country Kitchen SweetArt with my sister and pick up some new cake toys!

I've actually got a couple of posts ready for you. Aren't you excited! But, first things first. I know it's not cake and technically not a sweet baked item, but today I made bread. I used a no-knead recipe from the book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. Great book if you have any interest in bread-making but don't have a lot of time. I adapted the basic recipe from that book and turned it into my own Whole Wheat Honey Bread.

I meant to take a picture of it before I cut into it, but I couldn't help myself! It smelled sooooo good! This is a little loaf, just for our dinner. That is the nice thing about the five-minutes-a-day technique. You store the dough in the refrigerator and just pull out what you need, let it rise briefly, and then bake it up for dinner. Yum!

So, here is the recipe and the details. It really is super easy.

Whole Wheat Honey Bread
3 cups lukewarm water (around 105-110 degrees F.)
1 1/2 tablespoons dry active yeast
1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
4 cups all-purpose flour, lightly spooned and leveled
3 cups whole wheat flour, lightly spooned and leveled

Find a large container that you can cover, but that is not airtight. I use this container from King Arthur Flour Company. Pour the warm water into the container and whisk in the yeast and the honey. I add the honey now so that the yeast has something to "feed" it while it starts to become active. Allow to "bloom" for 5 minutes. This is just to make sure your yeast is active. It can go bad for a number of reasons, the most common being expiration. Another common reason your yeast won't work is that your water is too hot. Remember that 105 degrees F. is not that much warmer than body temperature. If you suspect that you are killing your yeast with your water temperature, use a candy or similar thermometer until you get the feel of the right temperature.

Once the mixture gets foamy, you know your yeast is active and you can add your other ingredients. Whisk in the salt, then add your flours and stir with a wooden spoon until it is uniformly moistened. Scrape the bottom of the container and any corners to make sure there isn't dry flour hiding down there. It should all be incorporated. Don't worry about kneading it. That's the beauty of this method! Put on your lid (remember, NOT airtight - the yeast needs to "breathe") and let it sit at room temperature for two hours. It should rise to about double. After this rise, you can use the dough right away if you like, but it will be harder to work with. It is better if you prepare the dough early enough to put it in the refrigerator after this first rise. Refrigerate for at least three hours before using to make it easier to work with.

After the dough, still in it's non-airtight container, has had a chance to sit in the refrigerator for a few hours, pull it out and grab with floured hands a grapefruit-sized chunk of dough. Put the rest back in the refrigerator. Take your grapefruit-sized chunk and dust it lightly with flour. Form it into a ball and place it seam side down on a cornmeal-dusted pizza/dough peel. Don't worry if it's not perfectly shaped. I actually like them better if they look more homemade and rustic, instead of perfect. If you don't have a peel, you can use the back of a pizza pan or a rimless cookie sheet. Allow to rise for 40 minutes at room temperature. At this point, the dough may not rise very much and this is okay. It will still taste wonderful, I promise!

About 20 minutes into the rising time, preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Place a baking stone on your rack, which should be in the middle of your oven. Make sure you leave enough room above the rack and stone for your bread to rise a little. You actually want the top of the loaf to end up right in the middle of your oven. There also needs to be enough space below the rack to place a small pan (I use a 2-inch high 9-inch round cake pan). Go ahead and put the shallow pan on the rack (or oven floor) below the stone, so that they can all preheat with the oven. Just before putting your loaf in the oven, take a really sharp, preferably serrated knife, and run it lengthwise along your loaf, making a shallow cut. Pour about a cup of hot tap water into the shallow pan in the oven, then slide your loaf off of the peel and onto the baking stone. Bake for 30 minutes or until the loaf is nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Though it is VERY tempting to cut right into that baby the second it is out of the oven, resist! It will get gummy and won't be nearly as nice. Let your nice little loaf rest for 15 or 20 minutes before slicing into it. You will be rewarded for your patience by steamy, lovely bread goodness! I like mine with the lightest spread of butter or a little honey. So good.

Here are some pics of mine in progress. Measuring the dry ingredients. Doesn't that wheat flour look nice?

The flour dumped into the yeast/water mixture. See the foam rising around the edges?

This is what the dough should look like after the flour is all mixed in. No dry spots!

I hope you enjoyed this! Too bad I can't transfer smells through this blog. There's nothing quite like the smell of freshly baked bread!

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