Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Best Homemade Bread Ever (And It's So Easy)

To all the people who have asked me how I make my delicious Italian bread, this post is for you.  To the rest of you who have never tasted my bread and only now know what you're missing, you will thank me for this tutorial.  You're welcome.

I like to bake.  I especially like to bake things that consistently end up tasting good.  I have been baking bread for over ten years now.  I started out using a bread machine, which resulted in a product that more closely resembled a brick than bread.  I tried kneading bread by hand--but I hate this method because my hands end up hurting really bad and are extremely sore the next day.  Plus, the bread only turns out sometimes.  And it also has a tendency to produce brick-like bread.

My next method was to make the dough in the bread maker on the dough setting, take it out and shape it, let it rise, and then bake it in the oven.  This was my most successful method of bread baking for quite a few years.

But then I discovered the Artisan Bread In Five Minutes a Day method.  A whole new world opened up for me.  Bread that was both easy and delicious!  Over the past few years I have added in new tools and techniques which have resulted in a consistent product that is as close as you can get to bakery bread without owning a steam oven.  And now I am going to share my recipe with you.

This bread is easy enough for a 6 year old to make all on her own

Step 1.  Get out your kitchen scale.  You can use measuring cups if that's all you have, but if you own a kitchen scale, now is the time to use it.  I did an experiment with the kids where we weighed 1 cup of flour after scooping it several different ways.  We ended up with a 50 gram spread between the results.  This experiment convinced that when it comes to baking, weighing ingredients produces the best, most consistent results.  As I read somewhere: Cooking lets you use a little of this and a little of that without a big difference in the end result.  Baking is chemistry.  You need to measure accurately because every ingredient works together in a specific ratio.  A little too much or a little less and your entire project can flop.  Okay, lecture over.

Step 2.  Get a 5 quart container.  I was using a gallon ice cream bucket but my parents bought me these nifty 6 quart storage containers for my birthday which are awesome.

Step 3.  Add 675 grams of hot water to your bowl.

Water added

Step 4.  Sprinkle 15 grams of active dry yeast onto the surface of the water.

Yeast is sprinkled over the top

Step 5.  Sprinkle in 20 grams of salt.  (I use Real Salt--brand name--now, but I used to use kosher salt)

Pouring salt into the bowl

Step 6.  Stir the salt and yeast into the water.

Stir it all up just to blend

Step 7.  Add 910 grams of all purpose flour.

Yes, I do just pour it in

Step 8.  Stir it all up with a wooden spoon or with a danish dough whisk (these things are amazing for any batter stirring) until all the flour is incorporated.  No need to stir more than that.

A big gloppy mess, but it's supposed to be

Step 9.  Lightly cover the bowl and let the dough rise 1-2 hours until it doubles.  The warmer it is, the faster it will rise.  Sometimes an hour is enough, sometimes it takes longer.

Usually doubled is enough, but this batch I made up and
then left the house, leaving my 6 year old in charge of
putting it in the refrigerator when the timer went off

At this point you can do one of two things:  You can use the dough immediately or you can put the lid on tightly and store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.  The longer you store it, the more "sourdoughy" it will taste.  The beauty of this recipe is that you can pull out just the amount you want and leave the rest in the refrigerator to bake on another day.  Or you can bake it all at once.

Now you are ready to bake your bread.

Step 1.  Wet hands in water.  This keeps the dough from sticking to your hands.  When the dough starts sticking again, re-wet your hands.

Step 2.  Grease your pans.  I use cooking spray.

Best Goodwill find ever--Italian loaf pans

Step 3.  Divide the dough as you desire.  Sometimes I use the dough to make rolls.  Sometimes I use it to form my pizza crust.  I also have formed it into rounds.  But mostly I use it to make Italian loaves in my Italian bread pans (similar to this one) which I do by dividing the dough in half, forming two long loaves, each being about two pounds.

Step 4.  Shape the dough into your desired shape.  I just fold it under over and over until the top is nice and smooth, and then I squish and pull the dough until it's a nice long loaf.  Set it on your greased baking pan.

Step 5.  Cover the loaves with plastic wrap and let rise about 30 minutes if the dough is warm, longer if it just came out of the refrigerator.  It should be nice and puffy when you put it in the oven.

Step 6.  Put a shallow pan on the bottom rack of your oven.  Preheat the oven to 450 F.  The original directions say to preheat the oven for a half hour, but I tend to fudge that instruction.

Broiler pan on shelf under bread, ready for 1 cup of boiling water to be added

Step 7.  Now that the bread is ready to bake, and the oven is fully preheated, and the shallow pan is piping hot, put a cup of water in the microwave and bring it to a full boil.

Step 8.  Put the bread on the top rack in the oven.  Pour the boiling water into the shallow pan beneath the bread (Use hot pads for this!).  Shut the oven quick to trap all that wonderful steam that will produce a deliciously crunchy crust on your bread.

Step 9.  Bake for about 30 minutes.  My method is to bake it for 25 minutes and then insert a meat thermometer into the middle of a loaf and bake the bread until the middle of the bread reaches 200-210 F.  This is the easiest way to know when the bread is really done.  If you don't have a meat thermometer, then you can bake it until the top is nice and golden brown and the bottom thumps when you knock on it (so I've read in other places).

This bread was baked until it reached 205 F.  

Step 10.  Remove bread from the pan and cool on the counter.  I personally wrap my bread in towels and cool them on a cookie rack, but that's just me.

Step 11.  Eat and enjoy!

Printable Recipe

Really Delicious Artisan Bread

Adapted by Lisa at 
from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

3 cups warm water 675 grams
1 1/2 T active dry yeast 15 grams
1 1/2 T kosher salt 25 grams (I use 20 grams)
6 1/2 cups all purpose flour 910 grams

In a 5 quart container or bowl with a lid, add water. Sprinkle in yeast and salt. Stir.
 Add flour and stir just until the flour is fully combined. Cover with non-tight fitting lid
and let rise for 1-2 hours until dough is doubled. At this point you can either use the
dough immediately or refrigerate the dough for up to 14 days.

To bake: Shape dough and place on greased pan(s). Cover loosely with plastic wrap.
 Let rise 30-60 minutes, longer if your dough is cold, until nice and puffy. Place empty
broiler pan on bottom rack of oven. Preheat oven to 450 F. Once oven is fully
preheated, place bread in oven on top rack. Pour 1 cup of boiling water into broiler
tray (use oven mitts!). Bake for about 30 minutes until the crust is golden brown and
the internal temperature of the bread is 200-210 F. Remove from pan and cool on
baking rack.

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