Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sundays with Sparky - Crusty Bread Part I

Sparky was home on a bleak, rainy afternoon - so I thought "homemade bread." Nothing quite lifts the spirits like the smell of bread baking, does it? At any rate, I've been meaning to try the  Simple Crusty Bread recipe from Artesan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, just to see if it really worked - and if it didn't, hey, I have a bowlful of really stretchy and inexpensive playdo. It's a can't lose situation.

So, off we went - with some coaxing, Sparky emerged from his room, hands washed, and watched me measure the 1 1/2 tbsp of yeast into the huge bowl I decided to use. He carefully poured in 3 cups of water and whisked vigorously, sniffing curiously as the yeast began to bloom - we already had discussed that the holes in bread are because the little yeast beasties gorge themselves on the sugars in the flour and get gas. I added 1 1/2 tbsp of sea salt (the recipe called for kosher and I think I should have used a bit more to compensate, but I couldn't find the regular salt) and, with Sparky whisking all the while, I added 2 of the 6 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour. We switched to a spatula as I added the rest of the flour, and then I let him go to town (the recipe directs that all the flour be wet - Sparky took that to mean let no glob go unturned)

I explained to him that the flour had a glue in it: gluten, and that the gluten was forming thin sheets in the dough, which eventually would catch the gas of the yeastie beasties like a balloon or bubble gum and give us bread instead of flat pastry. To that end, we set the dough aside - near the stove, for warmth - for two hours, after which it had doubled in volume and become almost frothy in texture. I then snipped it into four pieces with scissors, scooping one blobby quarter into Sparky's well-floured hands. The remainder of the dough went into the refrigerator for future use.

With a little prompting and a lot of extra flour, he figured out the technique of rolling the top of the dough down into the underside of the bottom, so it became a little ball. This we set on a cornmeal-dusted cookie sheet near the oven, and ignored for 40 minutes (word to the wise, preheat your oven to 450 about 25 minutes in.) After the second rise, I sliced 3 expansion slits in the loaf and put it in the preheated oven, with a pan of hot water sitting directly on the oven floor underneath it.

The bread baked for 30 minutes, filling the house with that wonderful fragrance that only homemade bread can offer. Our efforts had produced a beautiful little crusty loaf with a nice chewy crumb, made even better with the Plugra I had squirreled away for a rainy day. Ain't rain wonderful?

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