First, why bake your own bread???
- Easy... Really, it is. It is a little messy, and it does take advance planning. But all a loaf of bread contains is FLOUR, SALT, WATER and usually YEAST. There are plenty of recipes that take more ingredients, but they all start with these ingredients. Accurate measurements, a little mixing, a little waiting, a little baking and you have the most gloriously wonderful culinary delight in the world!
- Fast... Well, not fast on the sense of start now and in ten minutes you have a finished product. What I mean by fast is that it does not take is a lot of hands on time. I made 4 loafs of bread with the following recipe. 1 is in the refrigerator waiting for the need. 3 were baked. TOTAL hands on time... Maybe 30 minutes. The rest of the time you have free for yourself. Open a box of Bon-Bons, fold diapers, read a book, watch Oprah, play on-line poker or find a cure for cancer. Baking your own bread opens up a world of possibilities.
- Saves money... Actually, saves a LOT of money. I shop sales. At least once a month, generic flour is on sale for 99 cents for 5 pounds. The recipe below takes a little less than half of that bag, or 49 cents worth of flour. Maybe a quarter (actually much less) for the yeast and another quarter (again, much less) for the sugar and salt, and I get 4 loafs of bread for less than a dollar. Most bread dough will store in the refrigerator for several weeks. For the price of a single loaf of bread ($2.50 for wonder bread, much more for artisan loafs), I can make, probably 16 loafs of this bread.
- Healthy... Take a look at the ingredient list on a loaf of bread. There is an interesting diet out there that claims you will lose weight if you only eat foods made from ingredients you can pronounce. Bread is flour, salt, water and usually yeast. What is all that poly, molutinous stuff on their label, and what does it do to your system? I'll take a home baked loaf of white bread made withe the 4 ingredients above vrs most commercial whole wheat breads for health reasons anytime.
- Emotionally Satisfying... Feeling stressed, bake a loaf of bread. Had a bad day at work, bake a loaf of bread. Want to start your day off feeling accomplished... you guessed it, baking bread puts you in a zen state where all is right with the world. Really it does. Next time the world is on your shoulders, bake a loaf of bread and see how you feel.
With a bit of advice from my blogger buddy Mary from ONE PERFECT BITE, I was directed to a recipe that originated in "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day".
Preparation time: 15 minutes to prepare enough dough for four loaves, to be baked over four days. Each daily loaf will average 5 minutes of active preparation time.
Makes four 1-pound loaves
3 cups lukewarm water (about 100º F)
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
6 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour (no need to sift)
Cornmeal for the pizza peel
1.In a 5-quart bowl, mix the yeast, water and salt. Add all the flour, then use a wooden spoon to mix until all ingredients are uniformly moist. It is not necessary to knead or continue mixing once the ingredients are uniformly moist. This will produce a loose and very wet dough.
2.Cover with a lid (not airtight). Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse, about 2 hours, but no more than 5 hours.
3. After rising, the dough can be baked immediately, or covered (non completely airtight) and refrigerated up to 14 days. The dough will be easier to work with after at least 3 hours refrigeration.
4. On baking day, prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to prevent the bread from sticking when you transfer it to the oven. Uncover the dough and sprinkle the surface with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough (serrated knives are best). Store the remaining dough in the bowl and refrigerate for baking at another time.
5. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won't stick. Create a smooth ball of dough by gently pulling the sides down around to the bottom, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. While shaping, most of the dusting flour will fall off. The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out during resting and baking. Shaping the loaf this way should take no more than 1 minute.
6.Place the dough on the pizza peel. Allow the loaf to rest for about 40 minutes. It does not need to be covered. The bread may not rise much during this time.
7. Twenty minutes before baking, place a pizza stone on the center rack of the oven. If you don't have a baking stone, use another baking sheet. Remove any upper racks. Place a broiler pan on a rack below the pizza stone or on the floor of the oven. Preheat oven to 450 F.
8. When the dough has rested for 40 minutes, dust the top liberally with flour, then use a serrated knife to slash a 1/4-inch-deep cross or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top.
9.Slide the loaf off the peel and onto the baking stone. Quickly but carefully pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the oven door.
10.Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch. Allow the bread to cool completely, preferably on a wire cooling rack.
Actually, for the first loaf (the one I was going to let get stale, I combined two of the loafs to make one larger loaf (above). French bread is noted for it's crispy crunchy crust and a soft chewy center (like me). It came out PERFECT. So, I have two loafs left... What to do, what to do???
When I was in college (4 decades ago), there was a locally owned Italian restaurant that was known for their bread. When you ordered a pizza for delivery (at 3 in the morning in a drunken haze), you could add a loaf of bread for 50 cents. Like crack and Oatmeal Scotchies, that bread was addictive. EVERY student at Illinois State University knows what I am talking about when I say, I LOVED Avante's Bread! It was fun to find the restaurant still exists, and still under the same family ownership. Now students have to pay $1.85 for a loaf of bread, but I bet there is a dorm room covered in a haze of blue smoke that MUST have a loaf of that bread as you are reading this.
But I digress...
That bread from my youth was a legend. It didn't taste anything like the bread we had at home. there was some secret ingredient that the stuff of legends was made. Then, during parents weekend, one of my roommate's Mother spoiled the secret... They added sugar... quite a bit of sugar in her opinion.
So, why not. I took the recipe above, added 2 tablespoons of sugar and a bit more water to get the same consistency as the first loafs.
And that did it. I was back in college, I cracked the secret code... Shhhhh, don't tell all those students that with an easy bake oven, they can recreate Avante's Bread. It kills the mystique.
All that's left to tell you about is my simple Bruschetta...
First, make a pasta cake shown above.
Then, take a 3/4 inch slice of the sweetened faux Avante's Bread. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on both sides, place under the broiler for 2 minutes til you get a nice toasty covering on the top. Take out of the oven, flip the bread, slice a clove of garlic, rub the garlic on the bread (the oil will cover and flavor, really, all you need to do is rub the sliced clove on to get a garlic taste. then, add a bit of grated Parmesan cheese. return it to the broiler and broil for 2 minutes til this side is toasty and the cheese starts to color. Add some diced tomato and enjoy!
And serve with the pasta cake!