Now just because I am usually blogging about clean transportation, doesn't mean that I lack domestic skills.
In fact, just the other day I baked a loaf of bread. SHOCKING, isn't it!?!?
But all too often, it is. How many folks do you personally know who actually DO bake bread from scratch? Well, with the crowd on this web site, you probably do know a few. But I would say that the percent of typical Americans who actually do make bread from scratch must be amazingly low. After all, it's SO much work, and takes a long time, and it's so much easier just to buy from the store, right?
Wrong. But we have been "trained" by our culture to think that it is. Instead, we all work our 9-5 jobs (that we don't really like) to buy things (that we don't really care for) in our capitalist/consumer system. Now, I am not saying there is some giant conspiracy of corporations to enslave us into being life-long "consumers". There's no conspiracy at all - it's all right out in the open.
A couple of years ago, I decided to give up corn syrup for Lent. It was one of those things that sounded so simple, yet I knew was going to get complicated fast. And it did. I ended up bringing my own ketchup (organic) to the local restaurant, as it was the only way I could eat my fries without corn syrup. And, most shockingly, even many BREADS are loaded with corn syrup. So, as part of my experiment, I started baking as well...
Like many things, to bake a basic loaf ISN'T THAT DIFFICULT. It just takes a little instruction, and not being afraid to fail! ( I have lots of practice failing. As you as you learn from it, it's just called EXPERIENCE!)
A couple days ago, I was having sort of a bad day. I was down and frustrated. And, we were out of bread. But, making things makes me feel better. There's a true sense of satisfaction in being able to do something for oneself. That, and even a bad loaf of homemade bread is still better than something mass-marketed in a bag.
So, in an act of corporate disobedience, and DIY gusto, I baked bread.
Recently, I was at the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania. While there, I picked up a couple magazines and "Mother Earth's Guide to's". In their GUIDE TO FRESH FOOD ALL YEAR, there was a simple bread recipe on page 51. The article was by Roger Doiron, but the recipe was adapted from one that appeared in the New York Times. It was very similar to one that I saw in another newspaper (and was passed all over the web) a while back, which was the type that I made during the No More Corn Syrup experiment.
The key features of both recipes was that it is "no-knead" AND that it was baked INSIDE a cast-iron dutch oven.
Since I had some experience with the other recipe, I was confident that this one would turn out as well.
After mixing together flour, water, salt, and yeast, I had a basic ball of dough.
The dough is set aside for a fair amount of time, to allow it to rise, and build some sour-dough-esque flavor. I just covered it in my mixing bowl, and set it above the fridge for overnight.
Next, flop the dough out onto a floured surface, roll it a bit, and make a ball. (As seen in photo above. First step in process, the dough is very sticky and shapeless, almost a batter.) Set the dough aside again for an hour or two to rise.
The oven is fairly hot for this recipe - 475F. While preheating the oven, put the dutch oven in, so that it gets preheated too.
My dutch oven is a Lodge brand enameled cast iron. It was my Christmas gift to my wife not long ago. Lodge is FAR less expensive than Le Cruset, but the plastic knob that comes with it isn't rated for the higher oven temperatures. I replaced it with metal knob on the lid. Saved myself about $200 by doing that....
Once the cast iron and oven are to temperature, pull out the dutch oven and use a kitchen towel to transfer the dough to the cast iron. On this particular loaf of bread, I didn't do a very good job. You can see that once the dough was in the pot, it wasn't a nice round ball anymore! Oh well, it's amazing how much of that sort of thing works its way out in the baking process!
Put the lid on and get that pot back in the oven! Bake for 30 minutes, pull the lid off, and bake another 15.
Let cool on a wire rack before eating.
*POOF* - Bread.
I don't know how exactly it happens. Baking is alchemy. Four simple ingredients, in proportion, plus heat, equals the best loaf of breat you have ever eaten.
I think the pot must know how to bake the bread, because I certainly don't.
This bread has an AMAZING crust! The only down-side to that is it can actually be TOO hard to cut! I have a pretty nice serrated kitchen knife. I even named it; the BREAD SAW. Trouble is, it can also be the finger saw if you aren't careful with it. Since I wanted to make sandwiches with this loaf, I also wanted an even, fairly thin, series of slices.
I'm not usually a fan of "Kitchen Appliances". They take up too much space, and aren't used nearly often enough. Unless they do something SO WELL, that they are actually worth keeping around. My wife's parents were fairly thrifty people. They bought in bulk from the Army Base store before Sam's Club and Costco even existed, and canned peaches when in season. The root cellar was always stocked. That also meant they had some food prep equipment. After my in-laws passed away, we inherited a few things, including an avacodo green meat slicer, I never thought I would use.
Did I say meat slicer? Hmmm. What's to keep a person from slicing bread with it?
I broke out the near-antique appliance, and gave it a shot. After a test slice or two, to set the thickness, I had the PERFECT sandwich slice!
Besides being an overall great loaf, one thing I have found about this recipe that FAR superceeds any store-bought bread is ITS ABILITY TO TOAST. This bread, when grilled, toasted, or broiled, forms a perfect, crisp outer layer, while still being chewy inside. In other words - the ultimate grilled sandwich bread.
I made up some ham reubens for lunch.
My wife had roasted some beets the night before, which I have taken a liking to since she gets them from the farmers' market, rather than the canned beets of my youth. Some greens and balsamic vinegar made a quick beet-salad side dish to complement the sandwiches.
So, there you have it. Just as the backyard hamburger will hands-down beat ANY hamburger you will ever find at a fast-food restaurant, a home-baked loaf is a winner over store-bought, any day.
And I'm no pro baker, just a guy trying to learn how to do a few things for himself, instead of letting corporate America do it for him. And, hey, no corn syrup!
Go ahead, learn a new skill, take pride in your work, and add a little butter.
PS: There are many "no-knead" bread recipes out there. Here's a link to one at the NY Times. If you don't already have a cast iron dutch oven, either a black one for camping, or an enameled for modern kitchen use, I highly recommend you get one. Best value is at thrift stores and rummage sales. If you want to buy new, I recommend the LODGE brand, but upgrade the knob on the lid.