Monday, May 4, 2009

Our Daily Bread

Don't have time to make bread, then read a little further, you might change your mind. I've found an European style bread recipe that tolerates my attention deficit brain and busy schedule. It has a relaxed raising time frame and the wonderful slightly chewy texture makes great panini's. For a light lunch or supper I spread home-canned brochette on thick slices and then sprinkle on a combination of cheeses such as Asiago, Mozzarella, Parmesan, or Romano, then broil the slices in the oven until their toasted and the cheese is melted. With a green salad, it makes a delightful light supper or lunch.

American style breads with their tight crumb are wonderful and once in a while caramel rolls are a must. Yet, though I find kneading bread soothing, when I'm in a hurry, which is often, the minutes seem to stretch on forever as I knead and knead watching for the tiny blisters to form on the dough's surface, signaling I'm done. Then, I rush off to another task and invariably forget I'm even making bread. You know out of sight, out of mind? This results in the dough having already mushroomed and is now cascading down the sides of the bowl by the time I pass through the kitchen again. To avoid this, I make this type of bread only on baking day. Ones where I'll be in the kitchen for hours making muffins, cookies, etc. for my husband's lunch box.

That's where the European style bread is perfect for me and can work into a person's schedule that has a job outside the home. Typically, the dough is mixed the night before. Often, I do this but what works better for me is if I wait until six in the morning just after my husband leaves for work and right before livestock chores. It takes only a few minutes to mix the 1/4 teaspoon of yeast (I use SAF instant yeast), three cups of flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 5/8ths cups of warm water with a wooden spoon. All the dry ingredients can be placed in a bowl the night before and the water added the next morning. It helps me to do this as a bowl sitting on the counter reminds me I need to mix bread.

After the dough is made, I place a plate over the bowl, but plastic wrap works well too, and let the yeast feed until about five thirty in the evening. Twelve to eighteen hours is what the recipe recommends for the dough to sit the first time but since I don't exactly follow the recipe on the sequential amount of time for each step. - Okay, I'm not even in the ball park for following the recipe except I do add the same amount of ingredients as they do. But, my bread turns out wonderful. Lest one should think I'm overly smart, I must confess the lack of adherence was due to a temporary loss of the recipe and a poor memory. Therefore, I recommend 8-12 hours for the bread to raise initially. I've tried a couple different ways of doing the bread and they both worked, including skipping the next step and doing it a little earlier than what most of the time my schedule will allow, so feel free to experiment.

Unlike American bread, the dough isn't smooth but bubbly. With a spatula, that has been sprayed with oil so it doesn't stick to the bread dough, I go around the edges of the mixture rolling the dough toward the center. This is so the yeast has a new area to feed. When I've made a complete round or two, I let it sit again until it has doubled in size, thirty minutes to an hour, while I go off and do evening livestock chores. This second dough raise can be skipped and you can go on to the next step but doing it this way helps fit the chore into my busy evening schedule. I turn the dough again when I return and place it in the center of a flour sack towel that has been generously sprinkled with corn meal. More corn meal is scattered on top of the dough just before I flip the sides of the towel loosely up over the top. The corn meal keeps the dough from sticking to the towel.

At this time, I place a cast iron Dutch oven with lid, in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately thirty minutes while the bread doubles in size. Then, I pull the Dutch oven out and spray the inside with oil. Grasping the edges of the flour sack that were flipped over the top of the dough, I gently dump its contents off the towel and into the Dutch oven. Don't worry. The bread will naturally deflate a little but raise quickly in the hot oven. Bake for approximately fifty minutes, When it is a golden brown, I remove it from the Dutch oven and place it on a cooling rack. My husband strolls in at eight pm, either during the final minutes of baking or just after. His nose begins twitching as he inhales the inviting aroma of freshly baked bread. The twinkling in his eyes telling me I've scored at least fifty points with him as he slathers the piping hot bread with butter and honey.

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