Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bread and a decorating plan that includes Johnny Depp

It's been a mix of rainy and then almost warm here the last few days. The kind of weather where you start thinking about garden plans and patio furniture , but when you step outside you are reminded that winter isn't finished yet. In our area, winter seems to mean an endless series of cold, colorless days with no snow and even the mud turns a  nondescript shade of grey. If it weren't for the occasional flash of a cardinal, you might think all color had left for the winter as well. So you stay indoors , watch a lot of TV and dream. Dream of warm weather
 dream of Johnny Depp showing up looking for directions
and if you are like me you dream of a piece of bread that does not suck ! Sure, sliced bread is a wonderful thing and we live in a day and age where you can buy ultra miracle 20 calorie a slice bread that contains so much fiber that a forest would be impressed. However, it has no taste, no body and about as much soul as a section of PVC pipe.  Somewhere along the line, people have forgotten that bread is supposed to taste good, have body , and be something treated as a staple of life. A wise man once made a request that someone give us our daily bread, and a famous woman lost her head for suggesting that the people of the land eat cake instead of bread. I don't think they would hold the same passon for an Arnold's Thin sandwich bun.

I tolerate the store bought stuff for stretches at a time and then go mildly insane and remind myself that I can make bread. Good bread. Bread with body and taste. Guess what ? If you have an oven, so can you . Through the years I have experimented with a variety of loaf recipes, but one stands out as the best tasting an easiest to make. At first you will read it and think it is all kinds of wrong, but it works and makes a loaf with body, taste and soul.It takes about a day to make , but only about an hour of that requires your actual presence and attention.

Boule ( French everyday bread)
3 c flour
1/4 t yeast
1/4 t salt
2  c water

Mix in a bowl, cover with a towel and let rise 12-24 hrs.This seems like an incredibly insufficient amount of yeast and bad ratio of water to flour, but it is correct. What you are doing is making a kind of a sponge that allows the yeast and flour mixture to attract yeast spores in the air and come to party. There is no sugar required because the yeast feeds off of the flour. The small bit of salt helps the yeast to work and gives the bread a delicious semi sweet flavor. Salt brings out the natural sweetness of food when used in the proper ratio.
yeast, water and salt dissolved

Add flour, mix and cover to let sit in a draft free place for 12-24 hrs. The longer time is better than shorter from a flavor perspective.
After 24 hrs you have this wonderfully bubbly, yeasty smelling mixture that is ready to party ! At this point , dump it onto a board with flour, or cheat and put it into the bowl of your kitchen aid. Add just enough flour ( kneading the flour into the batter) to make a smooth, slightly sticky dough. Sticky as in playdough sort of moist.Because you need to do this by feel instead of a number of cups of flour added, I will not state the amount of flour to add. It really and truly depends on the amount of humidity in the air, the age of flour and a number of other things that have never heard of a recipe, let alone read one.  Slightly moist dough makes for a well rising dough- dry dough makes for a loaf that comes out like a brick. Keep in mind that we are making bread and not bricks !
After the addition of flour, this bad boy is now ready to rise. Place in an oiled bowl and cover , OR place it in an oiled , covered cast iron dutch oven  ( this is the traditional french way for making everyday bread). After 2 hrs ( or when doubled in bulk), bake in a 425 oven for 50 minutes. A hot oven makes for a very tasty loaf of bread.
After baking, immediately remove to a cooling rack. If you leave finished bread in a pan it will become soggy. Now comes the hardest part- DO NOT slice the loaf for at least 2 hrs. While warm from the oven bread tastes delicious, it is a death knell for the loaf. Hot bread when cut allows the remainder of the loaf to become smooshy. Bread needs the crust to cool with the proper moisture content. If you are patient, you will be rewarded with a loaf that is good today, tomorrow, a few days down AND leaves a few stale slices to do some wonderful kitchen magic with. Things like bread soup and bread salad- two dishes that are a lot more delicious than they sound.

Good bread is a very good thing to have on hand. It's an even better thing to make on your own. In the process of baking, you can open your door, fan the aroma out and lure in any Johnny Depp look alikes into your kitchen so you can stare at them meaningfully and perhaps consider using them for some kind of kitchen decoration. When your husband and kids come home , they will not ask questions right off because they will be distracted by the smell of bread and start looking for the loaf. At that point they will probably discover your Johnny look alikes, so just cut em a slice to prevent any questions. Mischief managed !

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