croissants 1 (tartine)

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Someone must have told me “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” at a particularly impressionable age. Either that, or I’ve struggled through learning enough new subjects that I recognize the value of practice. Or maybe I’m just obsessive.

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This was my first time making croissants, and it wasn’t perfect, which immediately sparked my desire to try a bunch of other croissant recipes. (Not side-by-side, mind you. My head spins just thinking about it.) The thing is that I can’t figure out exactly where I went wrong. I’m hoping that by gaining experience with different recipes, I’ll become more familiar with the process and pick up some nice tips along the way.

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Of the recipes I’ve considered trying, this one is the most complex. First, a pre-ferment is made, two days before you want to bake the croissants. That gets turned into croissant dough the next day, and from there, most recipes are the same. Knead a little, then roll it out with a bunch of butter and fold it like a letter. Chill, then repeat the folding twice. Chill overnight. Roll out, cut, shape, rise, bake.

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The author of the recipe, Elisabeth Prueitt, gives a lot of detail, turning my 60-word summary of the recipe into 5 pages of instructions, tips, and advice. She does not mention that the dough will be so elastic that it will fight you every time you have to roll it out, which makes me think I did something wrong. (Overkneading is my guess.) She also does not say anything about a huge pool of butter left behind in the baking pan after the croissants are removed from the oven. And I’m guessing the yeasty flavor of the croissants isn’t right either. And clearly they’re not supposed to look like this:

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The croissants were still way better than edible – flaky, light, buttery delicious – but clearly my technique needs some refining. After I made this recipe, I was chomping at the bit to try another, and in fact, I have a handful of recipes I want to try. (Although one of them was the recipe that the Daring Bakers made a few years ago – which I just realized is this one. So never mind that one.) Expect to see reviews of one croissant recipe after another as I attempt to master this pastry.

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One year ago: Snickery Squares

Croissants (from Tartine by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson)

Preferment:
¾ cup non-fat milk (6 ounces/150 ml)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast (15ml)
1⅓ cup all-purpose flour (6¼ ounces/175g)

Dough:
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon active dry yeast (20ml)
1¾ cup whole milk (14 ounces/425 ml)
6 cups all-purpose flour (28 ounces/800g)
⅓ cup sugar (2½ ounces/70g)
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon salt (20 ml)
1 tablespoons unsalted butter (15ml)

Roll-in butter:
2¾ cup unsalted butter (22 ounces/625 g)

Egg wash:
4 large egg yolks (2 ounces/60 ml)
¼ cup heavy cream
pinch salt

To Make the Preferment:

In a small saucepan, warm the milk to take the chill off (between 80° to 90 °F). Pour the milk into a mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the milk, stir to dissolve the yeast with a wooden spoon, and then add the flour, mixing with a wooden spoon until a smooth batter forms. Cover the bowl with cheesecloth and let the mixture rise until almost double in volume, 2 to 3 hours at moderate temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.

To Make the Dough:

First measure out all your ingredients and keep them near at hand. Transfer the preferment and then the yeast to the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed until the yeast is incorporated into the preferment batter, which will take a minute or two. Stop the mixer as needed and use a spatula to clean the bottom and sides of the bowl, folding the loosened portion into the mixture to incorporate all the elements fully. When the mixture has come together into an even, well-mixed mass, increase the speed to medium, and mix for a couple of minutes. Slowly add half of the milk and continue to mix until the milk is fully incorporated.

Reduce the speed to low, add the flour, sugar, salt, melted butter, and the rest of the milk, and mix until the mass comes together in a loose dough, about 3 minutes. Turn off the mixer and let the dough rest for 15 to 20 minutes. This resting period helps to shorten the final mixing phase, which comes next.

Engage the mixer again on low speed and mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, a maximum of 4 minutes. If the dough is very firm, add a little milk, 1 tablespoon at a time. Take care not to overmix the dough, which will result in a tough croissant that also turns stale more quickly. Remember, too, you will be rolling out the dough several times, which will further develop the gluten structure, so though you want a smooth dough, the less mixing you do to achieve that goal, the better. Cover the bowl with cheesecloth and let the dough rise in a cool place until the volume increases by half, about 1½ hours.

Lightly flour a work surface. Transfer the dough to the floured surface and press into a rectangle 2 inches thick. Wrap the rectangle in plastic wrap, or slip it into a plastic bag and seal closed. Place the dough in the refrigerator to chill for 4 to 6 hours.

To Make the Roll-in butter:

About 1 hour before you are ready to start laminating the dough, put the butter that you will be rolling into the dough in the bowl of the mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until malleable but not warm or soft, about 3 minutes. Remove the butter from the bowl, wrap in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator to chill but not resolidify.

Laminating the dough:

Lightly dust a cool work surface, and then remove the chilled dough and the butter from the refrigerator. Unwrap the dough and place it on the floured surface. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches. With the long side of the rectangle facing you, and starting from the left side, spread and spot the butter over two-thirds of the length of the rectangle. Fold the uncovered third over the butter and then fold the left-hand third over the center, as if folding a business letter. The resulting rectangle is known as a plaque. With your fingers, push down along the seams on the top and the bottom to seal in the plaque.

Second turn:

Give the plaque a quarter turn so the seams are to your right and left, rather than at the top and bottom. Again, roll out the dough into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches, and fold again in the same manner. Wrap in plastic wrap or slip into a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator for 1½ to 2 hours to relax the gluten in the dough before you make the third fold, or “turn”.

Third turn:

Clean the work surface, dust again with flour, and remove the dough from the refrigerator. Unwrap, place on the floured surface, and again roll out into a rectangle 28 by 12 inches. Fold into thirds in the same manner. You should have a plaque of dough measuring about 9 by 12 inches, about the size of a quarter sheet pan, and 1½ to 2 inches thick. Wrap in plastic wrap or slip into the plastic bag, place on a quarter sheet pan, and immediately place in the freezer to chill for at least 1 hour. If you intend to make the croissants the next morning, leave the dough in the freezer until the evening and then transfer it to the refrigerator before retiring. The next morning, the dough will be ready to roll out and form into croissants, proof, and bake. Or, you can leave the dough in the freezer for up to 1 week; just remember to transfer it to the refrigerator to thaw overnight before using.

Making the croissant:

When you are ready to roll out the dough, dust the work surface again. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 32 by 12 inches and 3/8 inches thick. Using a pizza wheel or chef’s knife, cut the dough into long triangles that measure 10 to 12 inches on each side and about 4 inches along the base.

Line a half sheet pan (about 13 by 18 inches) with parchment paper. To shape each croissant, position a triangle with the base facing you. Positioning your palms on the two outer points of the base, carefully rolling the base toward the point. To finish, grab the point with one hand, stretching it slightly, and continue to roll, tucking the point underneath the rolled dough so that the croissant will stand tall when you place it on the sheet pan. If you have properly shaped the croissant, it will have 6 or 7 ridges.
As you form the croissants, place them, well-spaced, on the prepared half-sheet pan. When all the croissants are on the pan, set the pan in a draft-free area with relatively high humidity, and let the pastries rise for 2 to 3 hours. The ideal temperature is 75 °F. A bit cooler or warmer is all right, as long as the temperature is not warm enough to melt the layers of butter in the dough, which would yield greasy pastries. Cooler is preferable and will increase the rising time and with it the flavor development. For example, the home oven (turned off) with a pan of steaming water placed in the bottom is a good place for proofing leavened baked items. To make sure that no skin forms on the pastries during this final rising, refresh the pan of water halfway through the rising.

During this final rising, the croissants should at least double in size and look noticeably puffy. If when you press a croissant lightly with a fingertip, the indentation fills in slowly, the croissants are almost ready to bake. At this point, the croissants should still be slightly “firm” and holding their shape and neither spongy nor starting to slouch. If you have put the croissants into the oven to proof, remove them now and set the oven to 425 °F to preheat for 20 to 30 minutes.

About 10 minutes before you are ready to bake the croissants, make the egg wash. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cream, and salt until you have a pale yellow mixture. Using a pastry brush, lightly and carefully brush the yolk mixture on the pastries, being careful not to allow the egg wash to drip onto the pan. Let the wash dry slightly, about 10 minutes, before baking.

Place the croissants into the oven, immediately turn down the oven temperature to 400 °F, and leave the door shut for the first 10 minutes. Then working quickly, open the oven door, rotate the pan 180 degrees, and close the door. This rotation will help the pastries to bake evenly. Bake for 6 to 10 minutes longer, rotating the pan again during this time if the croissants do not appear to be baking evenly. The croissants should be done in 15 to 20 minutes total. They are ready when they are a deep golden brown on the top and bottom, crisp on the outside and light when they are picked up, indicating that the interior is cooked through.

Remove the croissants from the oven and place them on a wire rack to cool. As they cool, their moist interiors will set up. They are best if eaten while they are still slightly warm. If they have just cooled to room temperature, they are fine as well, or you can rewarm them in a 375°F oven for 6 to 8 minutes to recrisp them before serving. You can also store leftover croissants in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 day, and then afterward in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If you have stored them, recrisp them in the oven before serving.

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anadama bread

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My friends and I aren’t amateurs at sleeping outdoors, but we went on a disaster of a trip a few years ago. Near the end of October, we went to West Virginia hoping to see some fall colors. We hiked up to a ridge with all of our gear, planning to camp at the top for a couple nights. And a little blizzard blew through. Then my friend leaned over too far while cooking dinner and fell – into the fire. The dog kept running away. Our tent blew away – while we were in it.

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The next morning, we got off of that stupid ridge as early as possible. (Another friend fell and sprained his ankle on the way down.) Once down, we had a very nice, sunny and even warm picnic lunch in a beautiful park at the base of Seneca Rocks. My friend passed around this bread, apologizing that something had gone wrong with the baking. It clearly hadn’t risen – it was so dense it was almost crystalline. But the taste, sweet and complex, was good enough to make up for the texture. I promised her I’d try the recipe and see if I could figure out what went wrong.

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The recipe has quite a number of issues, actually. For one thing, it calls for 12-13 cups of flour and says that it makes two 9×5-inch loafs, where most recipes use just 3-4 cups of flour per loaf. It also instructs the baker to dump cornmeal into hot liquid, but that will cause it to clump. And then there’s the place where I think my friend went wrong: the recipe starts with a hot cornmeal mush, and after that cools for “a bit”, as the recipe misleadingly states, the yeast is added. But it took at least half an hour before it was cool enough not to kill the yeast.

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It’s good thing I’m not new at bread baking.  I halved the recipe and divided the dough between two loaf pans. The cornmeal lumps did seem to break up during kneading, but I’ve reworked the recipe to avoid this problem anyway. And fortunately, I used my thermometer to make sure the mush had cooled enough before adding the yeast.

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After all was said and done, the bread was great. It was just as sweet as I remember, plus light and tender. So far I’ve eaten it toasted with butter, as French toast, with sliced avocado, and as part of a ham sandwich.  Tomorrow it will be bread pudding.  It’s delicious and versatile.

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One year ago: Cinnamon Rolls

Anadama Bread (revised from Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special)

Makes 2 loaves

Note from Bridget: I have to admit that I didn’t totally make Anadama bread, which requires molasses. It turns out that I didn’t have any, so I used honey instead. Not the same, but still good.

¾ cup water
1 cup milk
1 cup cornmeal
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
1 package (2¼ teaspoons) instant yeast
6 to 6½ cups (28.8 to 32.2 ounces) unbleached flour
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1 tablespoon salt

1. Heat the water, milk, cornmeal, and sugar in a medium-saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently. Once it thickens, transfer to it to the bowl of a standing mixer or other large bowl, stir in the molasses, and set the mixture aside to cool, about 30 minutes.

2. When the cornmeal mush has cooled to 105-110F, add the yeast and 1 cup of the flour, and stir until smooth. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and set aside until the mixture bubbles, about 45 minutes.

3. Stir the oil, salt, and 3½ cups of the remaining flour into the sponge to make a stiff dough, mixing well (or mix for 2 minutes on low speed in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook). Generously dust a board with the remaining flour. Turn the dough onto the board and knead it until elastic, about 10 minutes (or knead on medium low for 6 minutes, slowly adding flour until the dough pulls away from the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl). The dough may be sticky, but should be firm.

4. Lightly oil a large bowl, shape the dough into a round, and put it in the bowl, turning it to coat both sides with oil. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and set aside in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, 45 to 60 minutes.

5. Lightly oil two loaf pans (8.5×4.5 inches or 9×5 inches). Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured board. Slice it into halves and shape each half to fit the loaf pans. Place the dough in the prepared pans, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise until doubled, 30-45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350F.

6. When the dough has risen about an inch above the top of the loaf pans, bake for about 40 minutes, or until golden and hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf should read 195-200F. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then use a knife to loosen the edge of the bread from the pans. Invert the loaves onto a cooling rack and cool completely before slicing.

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deli-style rye bread

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Last week I was at the grocery store with my parents, trying to choose a dessert to bring home to share. My dad wanted strawberry cake, and my mom wanted German chocolate cake. I wasn’t going to get in the middle of this, and honestly, I don’t know why my dad even offers his opinion. Dessert is a decision that my mom will always get to make.

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Apparently that apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, because Dave and I were recently choosing a menu item to split to go with our pot of mussels – he wanted a reuben, and I wanted smoked duck salad. Of course we got salad, but only after I promised to make Dave a reuben at home.

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First I had to make rye bread. I was inundated with recipes – Peter Reinhart has several, and King Arthur’s Flour has far too many to choose between. I thought that Cooks Illustrated’s recipe would be a safe bet for my first time making rye bread.

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One of the reasons I like CI for my first time attempting something is the specific instructions they offer. Not just rye flour, but medium or light rye flour. If only I had had so many options. After searching my grocery store, the only rye flour I could find was organic and whole grain, and forget the rye flakes that the recipe also recommends.

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I was concerned that my bread would be a flop due to the whole grain flour, and it didn’t help that the dough’s texture was different from what I’m used to. It seemed heavier and less elastic. The rising times were longer than what the recipe indicates, which I’m attributing to the whole grain flour.

Fortunately, it all worked out, and this made some very good bread – a little bitter from the rye and scented from the caraway seeds, and firm enough to hold up to a sandwich without being unpleasantly dense.  It made for some exceptionally good reubens.

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One year ago: Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins – I have a batch of these in my freezer right now.  I had one yesterday.

Deli-Style Rye Bread (from Cooks Illustrated)

Makes 1 large loaf

This is half of Cooks Illustrated’s original recipe. I have no idea why their original recipe makes such a huge amount of bread. This seems more practical.

Sponge:
⅓ cup rye flakes (optional)
1⅞ cups water, at room temperature
¾ teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1½ cups (7½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

Dough:
¾ cups (3¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
1¾ cups (6.125 ounces) medium or light rye flour
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1½ teaspoon salt

Glaze:
1 egg white
1 tablespoon milk

1. For the sponge: Heat the oven to 350 degrees; toast the rye flakes, if using, on a small baking sheet until fragrant and golden brown, 10-12 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Mix the water, yeast, honey, rye flakes, and flour in the mixing bowl of a standing mixer to form a thick batter. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit until bubbles form over the entire surface, at least 2½ hours. (The sponge can stand at cool room temperature overnight.)

2. For the dough: Stir the all-purpose flour, 1 ½ cups of the rye flour, the caraway seeds, oil, and salt into the sponge. Attach the dough hook and knead the dough at low speed, adding the remaining rye flour once the dough becomes cohesive; knead until smooth yet sticky, about 5 minutes. With moistened hands, transfer the dough to a well-floured work surface, knead into a smooth ball, then place it in a very lightly oiled large bowl or straight-sided container. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at warm room temperature until doubled in size, 1½ to 2 hours.

3. Generously sprinkle the cornmeal on a large baking sheet. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and press it into a 6 by 9-inch rectangle. With the long side facing you, roll the dough into a 9-inch log, seam-side up. Pinch the seam with your fingertips to seal. Turn the dough seam-side down, and, with your fingertips, seal the ends by tucking them into the loaf. Carefully transfer the shaped loaf to the prepared baking sheet, cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap, and let rise until the dough looks bloated and dimply and starts to spread out, 60-75 minutes. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees.

4. For the glaze: Whisk the egg white and milk together and brush over the sides and top of the loaf. Right before baking, make 6 or 7 slashes, ½-inch deep, in the top of the dough with a single-edge razor blade or a very sharp knife. Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the loaf reads 200 degrees, 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature.

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spinach bread

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Someone asked me recently if I save posts for certain times when I think they’ll be more popular. I said that I didn’t; I just post when I have something ready, although I usually have a bit of a queue to choose from. But then I realized that I had just made green bread, and of course it’s more fun to look at green bread near the middle of March than it is in February!

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The color comes from cooked spinach, which I recently said that I don’t like, but when I said that, I meant I don’t like it plain. I like it quite a bit when it’s mixed in with dough. Seriously, what doesn’t get better when you mix it with flour?

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The finely chopped cooked spinach is kneaded into fairly traditional bread dough, which is then treated like any other bread – it rises, is shaped, proofed, baked, and cooled. The result is a spring green, pleasantly spinachy, tender loaf of bread, which can then be made into the best egg salad sandwich ever, or a mean grilled cheese. Which would be perfect served along some green beer for St. Patrick’s Day, don’t you think?

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One year ago: Spaghetti and Meatballs

Spinach Bread (adapted from Ultimate Bread, by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno)

You could probably use frozen spinach for this instead of cooking your own. The instructions are for a long loaf, but you can make this bread into pretty much any shape you want.

5 ounces spinach
2 teaspoons instant yeast
3½ cups (17.5 ounces) unbleached flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup water, room temperature
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil

1. Place cleaned spinach leaves and any water that clings to them in a nonreactive soup kettle. (If you’re using pre-washed bagged spinach, add 2 tablespoons water to the pot). Cover and cook over medium-high heat until spinach wilts, 2-4 minutes. Cool spinach slightly and squeeze out the excess liquid. Chop very finely, or puree in a food processor.

2. Mix the flour, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Turn machine to low and slowly add the water, then the spinach and oil. When dough comes together, increase the speed to medium and mix until dough is smooth and satiny, stopping machine two or three times to scrape dough from hook if necessary, about 10 minutes. If after 5 minutes, the dough sticks to the sides of the bowl, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.

3. Lightly oil a large bowl. With floured (or lightly oiled) hands, shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to the bowl, rolling it to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1 to 1½ hours. Press to deflate, then let rest for 10 minutes.

4. Gently pat the dough into a rough rectangle. Fold the bottom third of dough, letter style, up to the center and press to seal, creasing surface tension on the outer edge. Fold the remaining dough over the top and use the edge of your hand to seal the seam closed and to increase the surface tension all over. Press evenly with the palms of both hands and roll the dough backward and forward until it is 10 inches in length. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Place the loaf on the pan and lightly dust with flour. Cover loosely with plastic wrap.

5. Proof at room temperature for about 45 minutes, or until the loaves have grown to about twice their original size.

6. About half an hour into the second rise, place a baking stone* on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 450F.

7. Using a very sharp knife or a serrated bread knife, cut 5 diagonal slashes, each about ¼ to ½-inch deep, across the top of the loaf. (Alternatively, cut one long slash that extends for the length of the loaf.)

8. Transfer the dough on the parchment paper to a peel or the back of a sheet pan. Transfer the dough to the baking stone. Close the oven and reduce the temperature to 400 degrees. Bake until golden brown and the temperature is around 200 degrees** at the center, 30-40 minutes.

9. Transfer the loaves to a cooling rack and cool for at least 1 hour before slicing and serving.

*If you don’t have a baking stone, simply bake the loaf on a baking sheet at 400F for 45 minutes.

**If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, tap the bottom of the hot baked loaf. It should sound hollow when the bread is done baking.

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country-style sourdough bread

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One baking threshold I have not crossed is sourdough. Peter Reinhart gives detailed instructions for developing a starter in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, but I’m intimidated by what seems like a detailed feeding schedule. Also, I’m put off by the idea of throwing away half the developing mixture several days in a row. Unfortunately, I’m getting the idea that there’s no getting around either of these issues. I scanned through the method in The King Arthur Flour’s Bakers Companion, and it was very similar to Reinhart’s.

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Instead of following the seemingly complex no-yeast method for making sourdough starter, I tried a shortcut method that is essentially a dilute bread mixture, including commercial yeast. This is easy – just mix up the ingredients (I skipped the vitamin C) and leave it overnight. The longer you leave it, the more sourdoughy your bread will be.

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The problem is that I never got a strong sourdough flavor from the bread I made with this mixture. I tried the recipe that goes with the starter, and it made some really tasty bread, but I had to use my imagination to taste any sourdough flavor. I tried it shortly after making the starter, and a few weeks later, and there was very little difference.

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Trying to determine if the problem was the starter or the bread recipe, I also used my starter with Reinhart’s basic sourdough bread recipe. Same result – very little sourdough flavor, although otherwise a very nice loaf of bread. I’m visiting my mom next week and she usually keeps some sourdough starter in the fridge, which I’m almost sure is made with commercial yeast, so I might try to make a loaf of bread with that and see how sour it tastes. If it still has only very weak (if any) sourdough flavor, I’m going to have to admit that I need to do a real sourdough starter, without using commercial yeast.

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Has anyone tried this? Is it easier than I’m making it out to be? I’m worried less about making the starter than I am about taking care of it afterwards. It sounds complicated and rigid, and I’m not sure I’m ready for the commitment. On the other hand, I want super tasty homemade sourdough bread!

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One year ago: Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese. Possibly my favorite meal ever.  Except for sushi.

Proto-Dough (from Alton Brown for Bon Appétit)

Makes about 1 quart

1⅔ cups bread flour
1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
½ 500-mg vitamin C pill (not chewable), crushed
2 cups warm filtered or spring water (105°F to 115°F)

Sift first 4 ingredients into medium bowl. Place 2 cups warm water in large clean sealable container. Add dry ingredients; whisk vigorously to combine. Cover container with lid slightly ajar; let stand in warm draft-free area 24 hours.

Alton Brown’s tips for using proto-dough:
Afer 24 hours, you can use the proto-dough in a recipe. Or you can develop with flavor by adding a cup each of warm water and bread flour, letting it stand, uncovered, at room temperature until foamy (about 2 hours) and stashing it, covered, in the fridge for at least 3 weeks. An alcohol-rich liquid will rise to the surface every few days; just whisk it back in. “Feed” the proto-dough every time you take some to use in a recipe. For every cup taken add a cup each of water and bread flour, let foam, and return to the fridge. Proto-dough can last for years, as long as you keep taking and feeding. To use proto-dough in a regulr yeast recipe, replace the dry yeast and every cup of liquid (including dissolving liquid) with ½ cup of proto-dough, 5 ounces liquid, and ½ teaspoon instant yeast.

Country-Style Sourdough Bread (from Alton Brown for Bon Appétit)

AB note: The longer you wait to use the proto-dough, the tangier the bread will be.

Makes 2 loaves

1 cup warm filtered or spring water (105°F to 115°F)
¾ cup Proto-Dough
¼ cup buttermilk
¾ teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
3⅓ cups (or more) bread flour, divided
2 teaspoons salt
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
Cornmeal

Mix first 4 ingredients in bowl of heavy-duty mixer. Add 2 cups flour; stir to blend. Cover bowl with kitchen towel. Let rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1½ hours.

Using dough hook, mix in 1⅓ cups flour and salt at lowest setting. Increase speed slightly; knead dough 5 minutes, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough sticks to sides of bowl. Let dough rest 15 minutes. Knead on low 5 minutes. Scrape dough from hook into bowl. Remove bowl from stand. Coat rubber spatula with nonstick spray. Slide spatula under and around dough, coating dough lightly. Cover bowl with kitchen towel. Let dough rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Turn dough out onto floured surface and fold over on itself several times to flatten. Divide in half. Shape each half into 4×8-inch rectangle. Make 1 shallow lengthwise slash down each.

Sprinkle large rimmed baking sheet with cornmeal. Space loaves on sheet 3 inches apart. Dust tops with flour. Cover with plastic; let rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Place 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan on bottom of oven. Position rack at lowest level of oven; preheat to 500F. Place bread in oven. Quickly pour ½ cup water into metal pan; close oven door. Bake 5 minutes. Add ½ cup water to pan. Quickly close door; reduce oven temperature to 425F. Bake loaves until puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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european-style hearth bread

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I’ve gotten to the point where I refuse to buy bread. If there was a nice bakery in the area, I think I’d be okay with buying bread there, but, even though I generally love my grocery store, I know that I can make better bread than they sell. Plus, it gives me a chance to bake something that isn’t horribly unhealthy.

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I decided I needed to deviate from the two bread books I have, which end up being the only sources I use for bread recipes. I’d heard that King Arthur Flour had a nice variety of bread recipes, so it seemed time to give one a try. I was looking for something rustic to go along with the chanterelle and Speck salad, and I wanted to avoid recipes that were already on my list to try from other sources (like ciabatta; I’ve been itching to try Peter Reinhart’s since I got his book several years ago). I chose European-Style Hearth Bread because it sounded like a good, basic rustic bread.

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Except I’m not sure I really made European-Style Hearth Bread, since I didn’t use the European-style bread flour that the recipe calls for. I’m finding that the King Arthur website is all about the product placement in its recipes; I guess that’s the price you pay for such an extensive list of recipes available for free. But hey, at least I did use King Arthur regular bread flour!

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The bread is just a little easier than most of Peter Reinhart’s recipes, because while both recommend making a pre-ferment the day before the bread is baked, this one doesn’t require kneading, while most of Reinhart’s do. The rest of the recipe is fairly straightforward, although the rising times are a little longer than most.

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In fact, I think the rising times may be off a bit. The recipe calls for essentially the same amount of yeast as most other bread recipes, but somehow calls for much longer rising times. That doesn’t make sense to me, and indeed, my loaves reached the required “three-quarters of the way to doubled” in far less time than the recipe indicated.

In the end though, this made some very good bread – chewy and flavorful and very attractive. I’m finding that I have just as little self-control around freshly baked bread as I do around cookies.

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European-Style Hearth Bread (from King Arthur Flour)

Makes 2 small loaves

Bridget note: I found that the second rise took only about an hour instead of the 2 hours recommended in the recipe. I baked my loaves on a pizza stone. I did not cool the bread in the oven; I don’t usually like a super crisp crust.

Poolish
⅓ cup (2⅝ ounces) cool water (about 65F)
½ cup (2⅛ ounces) European-Style Artisan Bread Flour
1/16 teaspoon (a pinch) instant yeast

Dough
All of the poolish (above)
¾ cup (6 ounces) cool water, about 65F
2½ cups (10 ¾ ounces) European-Style Artisan Bread Flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt

The poolish: In a medium-sized bowl, combine all of the poolish ingredients, mixing just till a cohesive dough forms. Allow the poolish to rest, covered, for 12 to 16 hours at room temperature. When the poolish is ready to use, it will be filled with large holes and bubbles.

The dough: Add the water to the poolish, and mix till smooth. Add the flour, mix till just combined, cover the bowl, and allow the mixture to rest for 20 minutes. This rest period (autolyse, in French) allows the flour to absorb the liquid and the gluten to start its development, making kneading easier and more effective. Add the yeast and salt, and knead the dough till it’s fairly smooth but not necessarily elastic, about 5 to 7 minutes by hand, 5 minutes by electric mixer, or 5 to 7 minutes in a bread machine. (The gluten will continue to develop as the dough rises, so you don’t want to develop it fully during the kneading process.)

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise, at room temperature, for 1 ½ hours. To help develop the gluten, distribute the yeast’s food, and expel any excess carbon dioxide, turn the dough every 30 minutes during the rising time: gently fold all four sides into the middle, and turn the dough over.

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface, divide it in half, shape each half into a rough log, cover them, and let them rest for 15 to 20 minutes. Again, this gives the gluten a chance to relax. Shape the logs into batards (shorter and fatter than traditional French baguettes) or Italian-style loaves – tapered ovals about 12″ long. Place them on a lightly greased or parchment-covered baking sheet, cover them with an acrylic dough cover, or gently with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow them to rise, at room temperature, for about 2 hours; they should rise about three-quarters of the way to doubled. If they rise too much they’ll lose their shape in the oven, so be sure they don’t over-rise.

Using a sharp knife or razor, and holding it parallel to the dough*, make four slashes in each loaf. These should be more nearly vertical (running down the loaf) than horizontal (running crosswise), each stretching about one-third the length of the loaf. Spray the loaves with warm water.

Preheat your oven to 425F, making sure you give it plenty of time to heat; this bread needs to go into a HOT oven. Bake the bread for 30 to 35 minutes, or until it’s a deep, golden brown. Note: European-style loaves are generally baked longer than American loaves; if you’re uncomfortable with a very dark crust, reduce the baking time a bit. Turn off the oven, crack the door open about 4 to 6 inches, and allow the bread to cool in the oven; this will help it retain its crunchy crust.

*The blade shouldn’t descend into the dough at a 90° angle; rather it should slice under the surface at about 10° to 20°. This will allow the loaf to rise in a more attractive fashion as its baking.

stuffed sandwich rolls (aka monsters)

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This is a recipe that has drastically changed throughout the years. Six years ago, I got the idea for sandwich filling sealed in biscuits from a book of backpacking recipes. I originally followed the recipe exactly, making biscuits with whole wheat and soy flour. They were so dense that they earned the name “monsters” with my group of backpacking friends. Every time I’ve made them since, I’ve adjusted the biscuit recipe slightly, making it lighter and adding flavor. Still, the biscuits always seem dry and dense.

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I finally had an epiphany this last time – the fundamental flaw in this recipe is that biscuits are used at all. Biscuits are best fresh out of the oven, not carried around in a backpack for three days. I’m guessing the backpacking recipe book developed the recipe with biscuits because they assumed that the average backpacker wasn’t comfortable baking with yeast. But as far as food preparation goes, I am not the average backpacker.

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That led to Monsters 2.0 – meat and cheese sealed in my favorite sandwich bread. These were far better than the original Monsters. They stayed sealed better – the biscuit versions tended to pop open. They’re healthier, since biscuits usually contain high amounts of fat. And although yeast bread requires more patience than biscuits, I don’t think this new version involves any more actual effort than the biscuit version.

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But the main advantage was, of course, in the eating. We ate these four days after I made them, and they still tasted fresh. And while food always tastes better in the woods, I think Monsters have their place at home as well. You can make a batch, bake them, freeze them, and then have a delicious sandwich ready whenever you need it.

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Monsters 2.0 (Stuffed Sandwich Rolls) (bread recipe pieced together from Betty Crocker, Cooks Illustrated, and Peter Reinhart)

Makes 12 sandwiches

I apologize for the vagueness of “sandwich fillings” as an ingredient. You can use whatever you want, although cheese and meat is the obvious choice. I think ham makes the best filling because it keeps well. That being said, I always use turkey because one of my friends who I often make these for doesn’t eat red meat. I don’t know how we get away with eating turkey that hasn’t been refrigerated for days, but no one has ever had a problem with it. As far as how much to use – as much as possible. I’ll update this next time I make these with something more precise, but I never use enough filling. Definitely use more than you see in the photos.

3-3½ cups (15-17½ ounces) unbleached flour, plus extra for work surface
1½ teaspoons table salt
1 cup water, warm (110 degrees)
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar or 3 tablespoons honey
1 package (2¼ teaspoons) rapid-rise yeast (also called instant)
Sandwich fillings (see note above)
2 tablespoons milk

1. Adjust an oven rack to middle position and heat the oven to 200 degrees. Once the oven temperature reaches 200 degrees, maintain heat for 10 minutes, then turn off the oven.

2. Mix flour, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix water, egg, butter, and honey in 1-quart Pyrex liquid measuring cup. Turn machine to low and slowly add liquid. When dough comes together, increase speed to medium (setting number 4 on a KitchenAid mixer) and mix until dough is smooth and satiny, stopping machine two or three times to scrape dough from hook if necessary, about 10 minutes. Turn dough onto lightly floured work surface; knead to form smooth, round ball, about 15 seconds.

3. Place dough in very lightly oiled bowl, rubbing dough around bowl to lightly coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; place in warm oven until dough doubles in size, 40 to 50 minutes.

4. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Form the pieces into smooth balls. Cover the balls with plastic wrap and allow them to rest for 10 minutes.

5. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each ball to form an oval ⅛-inch thick. Layer sandwich filling on one side of each oval, leaving a ½-inch border. Fold dough over filling, stretching it a bit if absolutely necessary. Seal the edges with the tines of a fork.

6. Cover the rolls loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise until puffy, 30-45 minutes.

7. Heat oven to 350F. Use the tines of a fork to re-seal the edges of the rolls. Using a pastry brush, brush the rolls with the milk.

8. Bake until rolls are golden, 25-40 minutes. Transfer the rolls to a cooling rack. Wait at least 30 minutes before serving.

kugelhopf

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This is the second Tuesdays with Dorie recipe in a row that I didn’t even know what it was before I made it. I had to wikipedia it to find out if I was supposed to serve it as dessert or what. I ended up serving it with some healthy omelets for breakfast.

This was not the most popular recipe we’ve made in the group. It seems like a lot of people had problems with the consistency of the dough and its rising times, and I’m wondering if some of those problems can be attributed to unfamiliarity working with yeast. A few people were surprised by how much time the recipe required, but almost all of that is spent waiting for the dough to rise. I didn’t think this was any more effort than any other yeast bread recipe.

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I didn’t have any problems putting the recipe together. I can’t say I followed the directions exactly – I kept forgetting about it after I put it in the refrigerator, even though I was supposed to punch it down every once in a while. But I find that yeast breads are pretty forgiving.

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I liked the texture of the bread quite a bit. It was very tender and light. The raisins were a nice addition. I wonder if it would be tasty to soak the raisins in rum instead of hot water to plump them? Or is a rum soak inappropriate for something that’s generally served for breakfast? (And do I care if it is? Probably not.)

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The only problem I had with the kugelhopf is that it tasted totally flat. I was actually wondering if I had forgotten to add the salt, but now I see that quite a few people thought the bread was bland. Looking at the recipe, I can why – ¼ teaspoon of salt is a not a lot for a loaf this size. I would expect to use about three times that amount. I really need to be more careful with the salt amounts in Dorie’s recipes – I find that she tends to use less than I prefer. It’s just hard not to trust the professional in these matters.

Overall though, I enjoyed the little kugelhopf rolls, and I’m a better baker for knowing what the heck kugelhopf is. You can find the recipe on Yolanda’s blog.

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peter reinhart’s pizza

This makes two Daring Baker recipes in a row that were already on my mental to-do list. It’s perfect because otherwise who knows when I actually would have gotten around to making them. I would have been making my standard pizza recipe, too lazy to try this new one which I’ve heard great things about, and wondering if mine is as good as it gets.

I’ve been using Cooks Illustrated’s crust recipe for years, which has the same ingredients as Peter Reinhart’s in only slightly different proportions. I started adding some sugar and white wine to it after Deb discussed it, and I found that my crust was a little more light, crisp and bubbly, which I liked.

But the CI recipe hasn’t always been perfect for me. Lately when I try to stretch it out, it has a tendency to rip, even when the dough is warm enough and risen completely. It’s not an elasticity issue either – it’s not like the dough is bouncing back on itself when I try to stretch it out.

One of the keys to Reinhart’s recipe is that he uses very cold water in the dough, then refrigerates the dough immediately after kneading, similar to his pain a l’ancienne. To be honest, I usually do this – albeit somewhat half-assed – with CI’s recipe, just because it’s more convenient for me to make the dough the night before I want it for dinner.

The biggest difference between the two recipes is that Reinhart mixes and kneads his dough with a stand mixer, while CI uses a food processor.  Despite the similarity between CI’s and Reinhart’s recipes, their outcomes were relatively distinct. Reinhart’s dough did not rip – it seemed capable of stretching to infinite lengths. Rosa, this month’s host, requested that we take a photo of the dough being tossed and spun, but this dough was so floppy, there’s no way I was going to chance throwing it around the kitchen.

Baked, the pizza wasn’t very different from my normal recipe. In fact, Dave didn’t notice that I had changed it. However, it wasn’t quite as crispy, and it wasn’t substantial enough to hold up my toppings, even though I don’t think I overloaded it. I think I might have gone overboard in making it thin.

I think in the future, I’ll stick with the ingredient proportions from CI’s recipe, adding the the sugar and white wine. However, I’ll use Reinhart’s method of preparing the dough with the stand mixer and using refrigerated ingredients. Hopefully this way I’ll get the best of both worlds. It’ll be a while before I have a chance to try it though, because right now, I have a half recipe of both doughs in my freezer.

Update: At some point I’ll get around to posting my method for making pizza (exact crust instructions, sauce, etc.), but I want to do some refining first.  In the meantime, you can find blog entries on Cooks Illustrated’s basic recipe here, here and here.

Basic Pizza Dough (adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart)

Makes 6 pizza crusts, about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter.

4½ cups flour (bread, high-gluten, or all-purpose), chilled
1¾ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
¼ cup olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
1¾ cups water, ice cold (40 degrees)
1 tablespoon sugar
cornmeal for dusting

1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl or stand mixer. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (spoon or paddle attachment) to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth. If it is too wet, add a little flour and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water. If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water. The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

2. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper. Cut the dough into 4-6 equal pieces. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil and cover with plastic wrap.

3. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days. NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil (a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.

4. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

5. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C). If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

6. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Take 1 piece and lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss. Make only one pizza at a time. During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping. In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.You can also resort to using a rolling pin.

7. When the dough has the shape you want, place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

8. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for about 5-8 minutes.

pain ordinaire

I like all kinds of breads. I keep a loaf of sweet tender country crust bread in my freezer to use for sandwiches and toast (with cheddar and Marmite, yum), and of course I love a really great loaf of artisanal French or Italian bread. This bread is neither of those. It’s just a very simple loaf of regular bread – no added flavoring ingredients like sugar or butter, and no overnight pre-ferment to coax the natural sweetness out of the flour. It’s exactly what the name implies – ordinary bread.

And that’s okay. Because ordinary bread, eaten fresh from the oven or toasted and made into panzanella, can certainly be extraordinary.

This bread is as flavorful as a rustic bread that’s ready in just a few hours can be. Although there is no overnight pre-ferment, there is a 20-minute “sponge” rest that improves flavor and texture. Other than that step, this is a very standard bread recipe – mix, knead, rise, shape, rise, bake, cool.

While I love Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno’s Ultimate Bread, especially for the beautiful photos that inspire me to get baking, their methods differ from what I’m used to, and frankly, I like my normal method better. For example, Treuille and Ferrigno usually recommend adding all of the flour and then adding small amounts of liquid to get the correct consistency. Most recipes instruct the reverse – add all of the liquid and then add flour until the right consistency is achieved. I prefer the latter method because I find that flour is easier to incorporate into the dough than liquid is.

If you want some very good bread with dinner and you don’t want to think about it days in advance, this recipe is perfect. I think it is also a great recipe for an inexperienced bread baker. There’s nothing complicated here, but the end result shows how great homemade bread can be.

Update 3/16/10: I’ve successfully used this method to make this bread whole wheat.  Complete instructions for adapting this recipe are included in that post.

Pain Ordinaire (adapted from Ultimate Bread, by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno)

Feel free to play with the recipe. Either bread flour (which I think is what I used) or all-purpose will work, and you can substitute about a quarter of that with whole wheat or even rye flour. You can replace half of the water with buttermilk or milk. You can make the loaf any shape you want. It fits in a loaf pan and it can be made into rolls.

3½ cups (17½ ounces) unbleached flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1⅓ cup water, room temperature
1½ teaspoon salt

1. Stir the yeast into 1¾ cup (8¾ ounces) of the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add all of the water, stirring until it forms a smooth, sticky batter (like pancake batter). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for approximately 20 minutes, or until the mixture becomes frothy, loose, and slightly expanded.

2. Add the remaining flour and the salt to the mixture. Stir (or mix on medium-low speed with the hook attachment) for 1 minute, or until the ingredients form a ball.

3. Lightly dust the counter with flour, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook). Knead for about 10 minutes (6 minutes by machine), adding flour, if needed, to make a dough that is smooth, shiny, and elastic.

4. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1½ to 2 hours. Press to deflate, then let rest for 10 minutes.

5. Gently pat the dough into a rough rectangle. Fold the bottom third of dough, letter style, up to the center and press to seal, creasing surface tension on the outer edge. Fold the remaining dough over the top and use the edge of your hand to seal the seam closed and to increase the surface tension all over. Press evenly with the palms of both hands and roll the dough backward and forward until it is 14 inches in length. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Place the loaf on the pan and lightly dust with flour. Cover loosely with plastic wrap.

6. Proof at room temperature for about 1 hour, or until the loaves have grown to about twice their original size.

7. About half an hour into the second rise, place a baking stone* on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

8. Using a very sharp knife or a serrated bread knife, cut 5 diagonal slashes, each about ¼ to ½-inch deep, across the top of the loaf. (Alternatively, cut one long slash that extends for the length of the loaf.)

9. Transfer the dough on the parchment paper to a peel or the back of a sheet pan. Transfer the dough to the baking stone. Close the oven and reduce the temperature to 450 degrees. Bake until golden brown and the temperature is at least 200 degrees** at the center.

10. Transfer the loaves to a cooling rack and cool for at least 1 hour before slicing and serving.

*If you don’t have a baking stone, simply bake the loaf on a baking sheet at 425 degrees for 45 minutes.

**If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, tap the bottom of the hot baked loaf. It should sound hollow when the bread is done baking.