Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I Love the Smell of Bread Baking in the Morning

A few weeks back, at a yard sale of all places, I bought three loaves of Pepperidge Farm bread. The kind that is available in any supermarket. The seller was an employee of Pepperidge Farms and had trays of the stuff. I think I paid $1 for three loaves. I froze two loaves for later use, then ate one, then another, until I’m now down to my final loaf. Usually that would mean going to the store to get more (or hope for another bread-themed yard sale), however I’ve decided against it. I’m not giving up bread. I’ve just come to the conclusion that it would be better and cheaper to make my own.

While it may come to a surprise to many of the people who know me, I actually enjoy making bread. Not only do I get to determine what goes in to my bread, I can even use it as a sort of barometer. I hadn’t been outside yet today, but I knew it was humid based on the stickiness of my dough. I had rosemary and Parmesan cheese that I decided to put to good use, along with a healthy dose of black pepper. The reason my friends don’t realize that I enjoy it is because I just don’t do it all that often. In my head, it’s a very time-consuming process. In reality, it takes less time and energy than a trip to the supermarket. The hardest part of making bread is waiting for it to rise. I’m an American, and we like prefer immediate gratification to delayed. The preparation and mixing only took 10 minutes, but I’ve still had to wait through two rises. I want my bread now!

The easiest and best-tasting bread recipe that I’ve uncovered is for focaccia. The name sounds fancy, but belies a simplicity of ingredients. Flour, oil, water, salt, yeast. Plus anything you want to add to it. One of my most popular versions included Cheddar cheese and jalapenos for a Southwest version. Today’s made use of what I had available.

I had barely gotten the bread out of the oven before I had eaten some of it. I opted to forego the more usual sheet of focaccia in favor of small, individual loaves. My whole house smells of freshly baked bread, and I get the smell (and the bread) all to myself. Since my oven will already be in use for roasting potatoes for potato salad, I may as well throw some bread in there too. Who needs the supermarket when I can make the best bread at home?

(Yes, I know it looks like a biscuit.)

makes one 11"X17" loaf

5 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/4 tablespoons (1 package) instant yeast
1/4 cup plus 4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups lukewarm water (105-110 degrees F)

Combine flour, salt, and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Combine water and oil and add to the dry ingredients.  With the dough hook, mix on low speed for 1-2 minutes, then raise speed to medium and mix for 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and sticky.  The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl.  Add flour or water as needed.

Line an 11"X17" rimmed baking sheet (half sheet pan) with parchment paper.  Drizzle olive oil on the paper and spread with a brush or your hands to cover the entire surface.  Lightly oil your hands and transfer the dough from the bowl to the pan.  Maintain a rectangular shape as much as possible.  Allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Lift the dough from each end and fold it, letter style, returning it to a rectangular shape.  Dust lightly with flour, loosely cover, and let rest for an hour.  The dough will swell, but it may not double in size.

Drizzle 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil over the dough.  Using your fingertips, dimple the dough and spread it to fill the pan, maintaining a uniform thickness.  If the dough springs back as it's being pushed out, let it rest for an additional 15 minutes.  After spreading the dough, allow it to rise for 1-2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.  Place the baking pan in the oven and lower the heat to 450 degrees.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Rotate the pan and bake for another 5-10 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

Remove from the oven and move to a cooling rack.  Allow the bread to cool for 20 minutes before cutting it.

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