Who isn’t obsessed with bread? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love bread; even those who swear they’re ‘off bread‘ reminisce about bread…
I grew up in a family that always had a loaf or two on hand. When mom was feeling particularly fancy, she’d get a french bread loaf in the paper bag at the deli to serve with a meal. I loved the crispy outer crust, with the soft, airy inside… If it was affordable to buy for all our bread needs, I would. When I moved to Kansas City, I discovered the Farmer’s Market, and the fantastic Italian grocer on the border of the River Market. I’d make a trip every weekend to downtown and always at Carollo’s Grocery to get some sliced Prosciutto Di Parma and at least two loaves of the fresh-baked Italian bread. It was devoured within a day or two, followed up with a week of exercising double to burn off the totally worth it carbs.
Over the years, I’ve made many breads in the form of desserts. I have no idea why it never occurred to me to bake our own bread loaves… Why had I never tackled this so-simple task? My husband took the opportunity to make a roast, one of his specialties, so I decided to compliment the meal with bread perfect for soaking up the last bits of broth and wiping the bowl.
Makes one generous loaf.
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (unbleached preferred)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (set aside)
- 1 3/4 cups hot water
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 packet dry yeast
- 2 tablespoons Himalayan sea salt (black)
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
On a large, clean surface form the 3 1/2 cups of flour into a mound with a deep well in the center. Sprinkle half the salt into the well. In a bowl, mix the yeast, honey and water using a fork to whisk until it begins to foam. Slowly pour into the flour well, and mix the flour from the sides into the liquid with a fork until you get a clumpy texture. Sprinkle the remainder of the salt across, then using your hands, form the dough into a ball. Knead for 15 to 20 minutes until soft and smooth. Dust the surface of the ball with a pinch of flour, and place the ball in the bottom a deep bowl coated with a light layer of olive oil. Cover with a tea towel and set aside to proof, away from any drafts. Depending on how warm or cold your home is, you might need to peek under the towel to see how it’s doing. You can let it proof for up to 3 1/2 hours, but no less than 2 1/2.
Once the dough has risen to double its size, preheat the oven to 480°. The surface that wasn’t in contact with the bowl will have a slightly dry crust, but all you need to do is knead a few minutes until soft and smooth on a lightly floured surface. Lay the tea towel over the top and let it proof for another 10-15 minutes. After the second rise, pull and stretch softly to make a rectangular shape. Take care not to over-handle the dough. Roll the dough from one long end of the rectangle to the other, forming a loose spiral on each end. The edge of the roll should be resting on the side. Dust the top liberally with flour, and softly cut slits or a cross pattern in the top with a serrated knife. Cover with the tea towel once more, and set aside to rest for 5-10 minutes.
Line a baking tray parchment paper, and lightly dust the surface with the leftover flour. Pop into the oven on the center rack and bake for approximately 30-40 minutes, depending on your oven’s efficiency. The oven light will prove important here. You don’t want to crack the door to look in, the heat must remain constant. Your home will fill with the aroma of baked bread, but don’t be tempted to open the door and peek. My dinky oven doesn’t have a light, and I risked a slightly over browned crust for the full 40 minutes. This recipe results in a hearty, dense dough, but the outer crust protects it well. Next time I’ll take it out at 30, but even if you over brown the crust, the dough on the inside won’t burn.
Take it out of the oven, and quickly transfer it off the baking pan, and onto a tea towel or cutting board to cool. You’ll hear the surface crackle and pop. Once it no longer makes any sound, it’s ready to slice. If you cut into it while still crackling, you’ll let moisture out early. It should come to a rest and be silent before indulging.
Our roast dinner was perfect, and we both contributed! I stored the remainder of the loaf in a ziplock bag. In the morning, I used some homemade lemon curd smeared on a slice… forget dieting, I’d rather do this every day. The bread keeps for at least 4-5 days after it’s been cut, and up to 8 days if you haven’t. You could easily make enough loaves to satisfy your bread needs for a week. I never want to buy bread again. It’s so easy to make, and you can tackle other things while waiting for it to proof.