emember that time when I said I was going to learn how to make bread? And then I traveled to a far off land with no internet (otherwise known as northern Maine) and didn’t give any updates on how my venture was going? Well, that time has come to a close. I am back and I am here to shout that I LOVE MAKING HOMEMADE BREAD.
In fact, I love baking bread so much that I’ve extended it into July for my “12 Months of Making” project. (In reality, that project was already destined to extend into 2016 anyway since I missed a month amidst the flurry of working the Masters Tournament .) But bread really does deserve two months because there are just so many things to try!
Mr. Walrus and Lewis Carroll agree with me:
When I started this bread journey, I knew I needed a few supplies. Here is what we ended up investing in…
Pictured, you’ll see that we bought a big cast-iron dutch pot with a lid, a huge mixing bowl, a regular loaf pan (because, alas, most of our pans are still in a storage unit in New Orleans), a pastry cloth, and some razor blades (yes, razor blades. This book told me I’d need them for carefully slicing the top of artisan bread – I haven’t made it to those more complex recipes yet, but when I do my razor blades and I will be ready.). We also bought this pizza stone which I read is handy for baking artisan loaves.
Now that I’ve been at this for just over a month, I can assure you that you can make a GREAT loaf of bread with just the cast-iron pot, big mixing bowl, and the pastry cloth. Those three items have become my best friends in the kitchen. I’m sure I’ll put the other items to use as I delve deeper into my trusty bread baking book, but for now, those have been my key tools.
Here was my very first attempt…
I learned very quickly that I needed to dust the pastry cloth with WAY more flour than that. The dough stuck like crazy – live and learn.
Doesn’t the dough look great, though?!?
Flour, salt, yeast, water. That’s it. I’m telling you, it’s miraculous.
For my inaugural loaf, I made it in the loaf pan.
I made a makeshift cooling rack with a bowl on a plate since we don’t have a cooling rack in Vermont. (Can you guess where ours is located? A storage unit in New Orleans, you said? You clever thing, you!)
The bread turned out a tiny bit lopsided, but it still tasted fresh and delicious. It had to cool for an hour, but Bobby and I stayed up in anticipation and ate a couple slices as a midnight snack.
I was hooked after making this first loaf. I impatiently decided to forego the bread book and try a free-form artisan loaf based on this website (recommended by Pam, a wonderful reader. Thanks, Pam!). Watch this little video about making this simple, crusty bread and you will want to jump up from whatever you’re doing and whip up some dough.
If you were able to take a time out and watch the video, I’m sure you can hardly blame me for trying out that technique ASAP. I’m hear to testify that it works like a charm. My cast-iron pot and I have become inseparable because of that recipe and I think you’d have a seriously hard time messing it up.
When I went up to Maine with my family, I ended up bringing my bread making supplies to the cabin. We ate fresh bread every day and my little brother and parents were obsessed as much as I. Bobby’s parents and sister were also up at the lake and they loved it, too. If you ever need a way to win someone over, I’m pretty sure this bread is the perfect means to do so (unless that person has a gluten allergy, in which case you would just make them sad and depressed that they can’t partake. So don’t do that.).
I even got adventurous and tried a loaf with rosemary and Asiago cheese. OH YUM. To be completely transparent, my dad thought it was a little strong and “moldy tasting.” But Bobby and I thought it was delicious. Different strokes for different folks!
Here’s my basic rhythm these days: every other day I tend to bake a loaf. Around 9pm at night, I’ll mix together some dough (using the blog recipe I mentioned above ). This takes all of 5 minutes. Last night I decided to try mixing in some baked walnuts, dried cranberries, and orange zest.
I let it sit, unrefrigerated overnight, for about 12 hours. Then in the morning, I take off the plastic wrap and find my dough gloriously expanded.
While the oven and cast-iron pot are preheating, it takes about another 2 minutes to scoop the sticky dough out of the bowl and form it into a basic round shape on the pastry cloth. (Two keys to success that I’ve discovered: using a decent amount of flour so it doesn’t stick to the pastry cloth while the pot continues to heat up and not handling the dough too much – you don’t want to punch out all the bubbles because that’s what keeps the bread light once it’s baked.)
I carefully plop in my loaf to the SUPER hot cast-iron pot and put it back in the oven for 30 minutes with the lid on. Then I go about other morning tasks. At the 30 minute mark, I take the lid off and continue to bake for another 15 minutes so that it develops that glorious crust. Once the timer goes off the second time, I take the pot out of the oven and scoop my loaf out onto my makeshift cooling rack. It’s that simple.
It’s really stunning to me that the amount of active time I spend in creating these loaves is EASILY under 15 minutes. And the cost of making these loaves is nothing compared to what they would cost from a good bakery.
I’ve enjoyed two slices of this new cranberry loaf while composing this post and it is GOOD. I tried the first slice with butter.
It seemed like it needed something a little more savory, though, so I added on some slices of monterey jack cheese. Bingo. That is a killer snack.
I wish I could hand you some through the screen, it’s that good!
I think sourdough bread is next…that is going to take a little more TLC, but I’ll be sure to give an update. In the meantime, I’ll just be filling up on this tried and true method.
Let me know if you give it a go!
(*The links in this post are affiliate links – meaning that if you purchase through them, the cost to you is the same but I get a tiny commission. Thank you so much for supporting this creative work!)