Friday, January 9, 2015

Forgiving Bread


I've always had this thing about bread. A comforting food that can be smothered with all types of gooey, jam-y, buttery goodness, bread has long been a favorite food of mine. Cue my years in France: my fondness for the simple loaf has burned to an obsession.

See, I grew up on the long shelf-life loaf so common in American grocery stores. I'd only ever had "fresh" bread a few times before my journey to France and I was more contented making buscuits anyway. I had no idea what I was missing.

Bread is the core-nay the heart and soul- of French cuisine. Breakfast? Bread and jam. Lunch? Bread and cheese and meat with crudit├ęs. 16:00 snack? Tea and cake or tea and bread. Dinner? 3 course meal and BREAD!

One of the first things I noticed was the deeply nourishing flavor of bread in France and after heavy research and hounding of the local boulangerie owners, my answer was simple: water, honey, grain, yeast, salt.

WHAT?! There's no secret ingredient? No fairy dust? No magic spell to justify my hefty consumption of this new staple?

I had to learn their secret. If you've read some of my earlier blogs, you know my last attempt at bread-making was a catastrophe. Baking soda and baking powder are comfortable leavenings that I trust. Yeast has dark secrets that I've never been able to uncover. Until a few weeks ago.

You must understand I am a Pinterest addict and also obsessed with the Song of Ice and Fire series by GRRM. The obsession collided when I stumbled upon Inn at the Crossroads, a food blog featuring the sumptuous foods of the Westerosi Universe, and there inlay my bread-making salvation.

The Crusty Bread recipe was simple to make and used the exact ingredients recommended to me by the French bread-sages. After following the recipe religiously, my first batch was ready to taste.

Mouth watering, I tore a side of steaming, springy goodness, lathered it with salted butter and reveled at the wondrous flavor. The texture was perfect. The weight was perfect. The CRUST was PERFECT.

I was pretty excited, y'all.

Over the next few weeks I began experimenting (both, intentionally and not) with the recipe to accommodate my needs. The batch the recipe makes is enormous. We're talking 4 large loaves here. I love bread, but I also like it fresh, so I began halving the recipe and making it every other day.

The only problem turned out to be time. The mixing and needing time was eating up the precious hour I get every day when my toddler is asleep (yes, I have a toddler now, hence my long absence). Some days, I enjoy relinquishing my frustration into the dough with a good, hard kneading session (seriously, it's almost as good as crying), but most days, I need (pun intended) my time.

Therefore, I discovered a modified recipe for a bread maker. This recipe-handmade or machine made- is very forgiving. Seriously, I forgot the salt once and, though bland, the bread was still totally edible.

Forgiving bread recipe (for machine):

1.5 cups water
1-2 Tbls honey
4 cups flour (I use unable ached organic white, though substituting 1cup with whole wheat will still           give you a good rise)
1 package of active dry yeast
1 Tbls Sea salt
* 1 tsp-Tbls each of sunflower, poppy, sesame, pumpkin, and flax seeds

*optional

Mix the water and honey together, pour into machine. Add the flour and other ingredients according to your machines directions for basic bread dough. Set your machine on the DOUGH option. Once the rise is complete, wet your hands and transfer dough to a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Dive. Shape. Cut a few lines in the dough with a serrated knife. Let rise another 40 minutes to an hour. Set oven to 450 degrees and place a pan of water on the bottom rack (I use an enameled pan for cooking turkeys). Bake dough until the crust sounds hollow when tapped (I use a wooden spoon). Transfer to cooling rack.

Happy baking!