Baby tomatoes

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Artisan Baking and why I love it

I love baking. Turning the oven on, warming up the house, the wonderful smells that fill the air. Of course in the autumn that means pumpkin, apple dumplings and apple crisp, pear tarts and lots and lots savory things like stews and roasts and casseroles. I have a giant roasting pan that holds enough lasagna for an army and it takes all day to bake. Don't forget roast turkey and chicken and pheasant- the smells coming from roasting birds are just about the best smells of autumn.

And bread. I love love love baking bread. I love bread pans, I love bread machines, I love clay baking stones. I love all of it! The yeasty smell of bread dough is one of my favorite kitchen smells of all. It really doesn't matter to me if it's a yeast bread or a quick bread, muffins or cheesy biscuits, I love baking it. The approaching holidays usually include banana bread, pumpkin bread. Gardens are giving up the last of the zucchini, many of them too big to use for anything but baking. Let's not forget, the holidays are coming- you're going to need lots of dinner rolls for holiday dinner.

Baking also is a way to express yourself, show off your skills. Hence the term artisan. Now some people say it's thrown around too often, too cliche, used for every recipe that is a little off the beaten path. I think some people just have a real deep passion for the food they produce, whether it's bread, cheese, condiments such as mustards and sauces, or charcuterie, just to name a few. I mean come on-artisan cheese? Sign me up! I recently watched an episode of Real Girl's Kitchen and Haylie visited a farm and creamery that made artisan goat cheese. Yum! That is my idea of artisan, and especially bread. Think of the beautiful loaves you see in the windows of bakeries. Long golden baguettes. Round loves of earthy, crusty whole wheat bread. Seeds sprinkled over. Herbs mixed inside. Cinnamon swirled in layers of tender dough. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!

So I am going to bake some bread. I always have yeast on hand. Flour- check.Whole wheat flour- check. I even have cracked wheat to sprinkle on top. And I think I am going to go artisan and make a beautiful round loaf of crusty bread. Maybe I will even throw a pot of soup. 

To make a really good loaf of crusty bread, you will need-
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (keep it around 100 degrees so you don't kill the yeast)
  • 1 packet active dry yeast or instant yeast
  • 2 tb honey
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 cups all purpose flour, plus more
  • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1-2 tb crushed wheat for sprinkling

In a large bowl combine the water, yeast, honey and stir until dissolved completely. Add salt. NOTE- I was out of honey, so I used a couple tablespoons of sugar.

If you don't have honey, you can use sugar- I had to today.

Combine the flours in another bowl. I wanted an herby bread to go with my dinner so I stirred a couple tablespoons of Penzey's Parisian Herb mix. 

Add to the yeast mixture a cup at a time, mixing well after each cup. The dough is very soft and not a "kneading" type of dough. 

Form dough into a soft ball in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest in a warm spot for 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Get the oven ready for baking: place one rack in the lowest position and the other in the upper middle. We want our bread to have a crusty and chewy crust and you need steam to make that happen, so place a metal baking pan on the lower shelf. Choose one that holds at least 2 cups of water. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Get your baking pan ready: all I need to do today for this bread is lightly grease the pan.

Now for the dough.  Flour your hands, sprinkle the dough with a teeny tiny bit of flour (remember, it's sticky) and dump it onto prepared pan. With floured hands again, form the dough into a round loaf, or boule as the French would say.

Using a very sharp knife cut three slits in the top of the loaf. Brush or mist the dough very lightly with water and sprinkle with crushed wheat. Let the dough rest for ten minutes while the oven reaches temp. Go ahead and place the pan on the upper rack in the oven, and add at least 2 cups of warm water to the metal pan on the bottom rack. Don't use glass or you might break it and have a real mess.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until deep golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap it. Remove to a rack and cool. You can serve the bread warm but you should let it cool for 10-15 minutes minimum. 

This is the perfect kind of bread for sopping up rich gravies and soup broth. Round loaves are the perfect bread for a party size muffuletta too. I love round loaves of bread because you get more "bread butt" and THAT is the best part of any crusty bread if you ask me. This one took a little more work than the Dutch oven crusty bread I have made but it was still fun, and I'd definitely make it again this way. I hope you give it a try! Be an artisan baker for a day!

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