Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Best You've Ever Had: Rustic Bread,Two Ways

Rustic No-Knead Bread and Focaccia Bread

For the sake of this blog entry, I will argue that you can make bread that is so good and so easy you may very well want to live on bread alone.

I have spent most of my life chasing the taste and texture of those round Transylvanian loaves of bread on which I so happily grew up, but alas have had little luck. The vivid memory of both my maternal and paternal grandmothers bringing these massive spherical loaves to their chests and slicing them between their ample pendular apron-donned bosoms is tattooed in my brain. That memory is what bread means to me; comfort, nourishment, and warmth personified. I came close to this ethereal experience once I began making my own bread. There is a German saying that a woman is fit to marry once she has mastered slicing bread up against her chest… as yet, I still cannot slice bread between my bosoms.

Here is the super simple, no knead bread recipe I have happily executed about once a week for the past two years, so you know it’s not just an occasional fling. Just one very important thing: you will need a cast iron pot with a lid!

Rustic No-Knead Bread

3 cups flour
1 ¼ tsp. salt
 ¼ tsp. dry yeast
1 ½ cups warm water

·         Place the flour, salt, and dry yeast into a big bowl and give it a mix with your fingers.
·         Add the warm water to the bowl of dry ingredients and mix with your hand. No need to knead (hah hah), just use your fingers to bring everything together (this is really just a 10 second affair).

·         Once the dough has come together cover it with a tea towel or plastic wrap and place in a warm place, I use my water closet.
·         Leave to rise for at least 12 hours. I find it practical to do this before I head off to bed, as it only takes 3 minutes to prep, and leave the dough to rise overnight.

·         In the morning I preheat the oven to 250 C or 500 F with the cast iron pot inside.
·         Meanwhile, flip the risen dough out of its bowl onto a clean work surface that has been lightly dusted with flour and flatten it out a bit with your hands.
·         Fold  in the corners of the dough towards the middle, like an envelope, then sprinkle the top with some more flour.

·         Once the oven is as hot as it can get, take out the scorching hot pot and quickly transfer the dough to the pot, folded sides up. Cover with lid and pop back into the oven to bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for another 20-25 minutes.

Whenever I cut through the bread's thick crusty exterior and down to its warm and moist interior, I am always astounded by its infinite power to please and comfort like nothing but real hand-made bread can.

Focaccia Bread

 Now that you have mastered a simple no knead bread, you are ready for more advanced level bread-works. I say advanced because there are a few more steps, and a bit of kneading but it’s still damn easy and oh so satisfying. The good thing is, there is less waiting around for the dough to rise.

500g strong white flour
5g powdered dry yeast
10g salt
325ml warm water
1tbsp. olive oil (plus extra for coating dough)
1 tbsp. chopped rosemary
coarse salt

·         With your hands mix flour, yeast, salt and water in a bowl to form a sticky dough
·         Add olive oil and mix in with fingers
·         Turn dough onto clean counter and knead until smooth (circa 10 min)

·         Shape the dough into a ball and coat with olive oil

·         Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hour
·         Once doubled in size, tip over onto the counter and mould it into a rectangle
·         Transfer onto an oiled rectangular baking tray, pull the dough out to fill the tray, and push dough into the corners 
·         Cover tray with towel and leave to rise for half hour
·         Meanwhile, preheat oven to 250 C or 500F
·         When bread has puffed up, poke holes into it with your fingers until the entire rectangle of dough is dimpled
·         Drizzle over with olive oil then sprinkle with coarse salt and chopped rosemary

·        Pop into the oven to bake for 10 minutes, then turn oven down to 200C or 400 F and bake for 10 minutes longer

Enjoy with some Italian cold cuts, cheese or antipasti.