I don't know about you, but if I don't recognize an ingredient in supposed food I am buying at the grocery, I do my best to steer clear. A few years ago this led me to begin baking bread for sandwiches and accompaniments to dinners rather than buy what is on the shelf. Honestly there are many more, and better, choices in most stores now, but it is immensely satisfying to watch your own handcrafted loaf rise and bake to perfection. The smell of bread baking takes me back to when my mother would bake a loaf for Sunday dinner. She would place the dough in a pan near the heat register in the kitchen so that when we got back from church it had risen so high it had huge holes from gas bubbles in the finished bread, but it was delicious. After the purchase of several well respected bread baking books with incredibly time consuming directions, temperature taking more complicated than caring for a newborn, and ingredients only available in the most out of the way specialty stores, I have managed to produce some amazing every day breads using a few simple recipes.
One of the first recipes I tried is one I found for Pane Integrale, a simple dough that requires nothing more complicated than flour, a bowl and a wooden spoon. This bread works well with an overnight rising and so far for me has been foolproof. There is a bit of a time commitment here, so plan on serving this bread, delicious with a cheese plate or with pasta dishes, about a day after you start it. It is baked in a Dutch oven or similar vessel, but I imagine you could achieve pretty good results in a hot oven on a baking sheet or pizza stone.
|Pane Integrale, a bit time consuming, but delicious and simple|
2-1/4 c. unbleached bread flour
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1-1/3 c cool water
Flour, for dusting
In a medium bowl, stir together flours, salt and yeast. Add water and mix well with a wooden spoon. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature (70-72 F) until dough doubles in volume and is dotted with bubbles, 12-18 hours. For me, I have found the longer this initial "proof" time, the more flavorful the bread becomes.
Transfer dough to a floured surface using a spatula to scrape out from the bowl. Form the dough in to a loose round using floured hands to lift the edges of the dough towards the center. Place dough on a well-floured towel, seam side down. Dust the top of the dough lightly with flour, and cover loosely with the towel. Set in a warm place to rise until doubled, between 1 and 2 hours depending on the warmth of the room. 30 minutes prior to baking, heat the oven and covered Dutch oven to 475 F. When dough is ready, remove Dutch oven from oven, uncover and carefully place dough in to the pan. Cover and return to the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Uncover the Dutch oven and bake for 15 minutes more. Remove bread from pan and cool on a wire rack.
|"Our Favorite Sandwch Bread" from the King Arthur Flour website|
For many, baking bread seems daunting, but more than anything it is time and timing. Having the right tools helps, too, but I think you will prefer your own bread to what you buy once you get started. Happy baking!