Years ago, I used to bake homemade bread often. Somewhere between then and now, I became a very impatient person. Anyone who only buys bread from the store will not understand the amount of effort and sheer patience that bread making takes. I do not mean sandwich bread or quick breads, such as banana or zucchini bread. Those are breads that take little time and effort, and are enriched with eggs or milk. Artisan bread is not enriched. It is typically only made from flours, water, salt, and yeast. Artisan bread’s ingredients may be simple, but the process is not. For fully developed flavor, I let the dough rest for anywhere between 10-18 hours (no more than 24 hours), depending on the temperature and humidity in the house. When I first began experimenting with bread, I would try baking the dough after maybe 5 hours of initial proofing. Completely flavorless, gummy, no good. 15 hours is a happy medium.
After the bulk fermentation, I turn the dough out into a boule shape and place it in a bowl lined with a floured tea towel. I cover the bowl with another towel. The final proofing takes 2 hours.
I use the Dutch oven method for baking. Baking the bread in a covered Dutch oven traps steam inside, allowing for the open crumb (giant holes) to develop without completely exploding the top of the bread crust. It doesn’t hurt to score the top of the dough with a knife before baking, too. Scoring the dough basically explodes the bread before it can explode itself. After baking for almost 30 minutes, I uncover the lid and continue to bake for another 25, for a crunchy crust. I have tried various other methods to create steam in the oven, but the Dutch oven creates the best crust and color.
For dinner, I made a hearty soup to pair with today’s bread. I used wild rice, black eyed peas, purple and yellow carrots, celery, shallots, garlic, chicken stock, cream of chicken, heavy whipping cream, and a couple bay leaves.
Someday soon, I would like to try making sourdough. If I can manage to make sourdough, I can probably accomplish anything ever. The process for making sourdough is strange and seems unappetizing. It requires a “starter”, made of flour and water. Sourdough starters trap and utilize naturally occurring yeast in the air and from surrounding surfaces. The starter needs to be fed with more flour and water every day or so, until you are certain it is alive and working. At some point, the starter should be bubbly and yeasty. One starter can last for generations, as long as it is continually fed. This sounds intimidating, but I really love sourdough…