Stop thinking that, you dirty buggers!
L-boogie asked me recently what interesting food I'd been up to since we last talked. I really didn't have an answer for her, even though we had eaten at home all week. So I must have been making something, but I honestly couldn't think of what we had been feeding ourselves with, and it very likely wasn't novel, delicious, or exciting. Of course, the moment we parted company I realized that I hadn't thought to share my most recent food project - I've been baking my own bread for weeks now!
My dad is an amazing baker. It's a hobby he took up a few years ago now, mostly out of frustration with work because bread kneading is a fantastic way to release stress, and the patience required to see a recipe through is also meditative. The products of his labour are now hotly requested, and a day at their home that promises steaming bread fresh from the oven is a day when I feel mightily spoiled. I don't have the dedication to purity that he has, in terms of following a recipe to the letter, nor the patience he displays, so my own forays into bread making were bound to be a little more mucky than his. But I recently jumped right in!
A couple years ago I got Healthy Bread In 5 Minutes A Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois out of the library. They have a terrific system that is very, very like the No Knead bread craze that's been sweeping the system lately (also see Katie's great post on no knead bread). In the 5 Minutes A Day books, you mix a few ingredients briefly in a large container with a lid, then toss the whole thing in the fridge, and remove only as much as you want for your next loaf. Seriously hands off, easy peasy stuff. And the bread is really decent. But for some reason I waned off it pretty quickly, only trying 4 or 5 recipes from the healthy book and their original book, Artisan Breads In 5 Minutes A Day. I don't know, maybe there was something about the longer term commitment to having four loaves on the go all the time... I couldn't really say, but I didn't keep it up for long and was soon back to buying sliced sandwich bread at the grocery store.
Then three weeks ago, I found a very simply recipe for baguette at Epicurious, and decided to give it a go. I now have a stand mixer so I'm not wearing myself out with kneading but the gluten and yeast do get a work out in this recipe. Since trying the recipe as written the first time, I've since made at least another 5 batches, with variations imagined up by me every time. I've played with subbing some whole wheat flour for some of the white bread flour; I've moved away from baguette shapes completely; I've added rosemary and asiago; I've tossed in a couple tablespoons of 7-grain mix; I made a whole wheat version with added dried herbs (dill, rosemary, thyme); all the while also experimenting with how many rises, how much cycled kneading (like a second knead or not), how long each rise lasts, and I even tried retarding the dough in the fridge once. Tonight though, oh tonight. I returned (almost) to the original recipe, and added rosemary in the first knead, chopped olives in the second knead, and really limited each rise cycle. This bread is the bomb.
The loaf turned out to be almost a foot long with fantastic rise and a surprisingly chewy but firm crust. I definitely could have worked the olives through the dough more, but I was afraid to overwork it and deflate the first rise completely. In any case, the little pits of black saltiness gel perfectly with the mellow meatiness of the body of the loaf, and with the aromatic rosemary that permeates throughout. I'm frickin impressed with myself, and I feel like if you give this recipe a try (or possibly a couple tries to get the feel for it) you'll be impressed with yourself too! Follow the link to the original recipe above, or try the adjusted recipe I made today. It's down below, but before I get to that I also want to talk about the other reason wheat exists: beer.
Driftwood. Apparently their latest nectar is a Russian Imperial Stout called Singularity, and it allegedly sold out on all of Main Street in 24 hours! When Rocco and I spotted it at our local liquor store this afternoon we had to try it out. It's a whopper at 11.6%, which, paired with its instant popularity, explains the $12 price tag for a 650mL bottle. But who can resist a beer with the tagline "Beer of infinite density", that is sealed with black wax?! This stuff is aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels, fergoodnesssakes.
As you can see in the photo, it's black as death. The taste is malty and sweet, and a little bit sour on the finish. It's a smooth, smooth stout with really rich mouth feel(see Note below). I couldn't have a second pint of this stuff, not least because it would send me under the table but also because it's got such a huge flavour that I was sated almost instantly. Needed some water and some bread, a little something to rinse it all out. But hell yes it's a beautiful beer. If you get a chance, give it a taste and let me know what you think of it. Please describe the mouth feel in great detail.
Meg's rustic rosemary and olive loaf
1 cup tepid water (skin temp)
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp active dry yeast
3 cups bread flour (I think all purpose flour would be fine, but the texture will be less chewy)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 scant cup olives, roughly chopped
sea salt for dusting
1) In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, stir the sugar into the water. Sprinkle the mixture with yeast so that it covers the surface. Let this new group of friends get to know one another for about 5 minutes. You will probably see a frothy party happening when you return to the bowl, but if you don't, have no fear and move forward*.
2) Add 1.5 cups of the flour to the yeast mixture and stir to incorporate. Put your dough hook on the stand mixer, add the salt, rosemary, and remaining flour, and let the mixer knead (low speed) for about 6 minutes**. This should result in a cohesive ball that seems a bit elastic and probably quite dense. Put a couple Tablespoons of oil in a large clean bowl and rub it all around the bowl. Drop in your dough ball and turn the ball until the dough is also coated in oil. Cover this bowl tightly with plastic wrap and tuck it away in a warm, dark corner of your home. For us, under our kitchen sink gets pretty toasty because of some weird heating vent arrangements, but you might have a closet that gets warm next to the dryer, or a shelf near your water heater that will work.
3) Let the dough rise for at least a few hours. Today mine rose for 5 hours. Prepare your baking pan with parchment paper, then remove the plastic wrap from the bowl. Add your olives, then fold and pull and fold and pull the dough to incorporate the olives. This is not a serious kneading as you don't want to deflate the dough, but you do want to rough it up a little. When you feel like they're mixed in enough, start shaping the dough by pulling it into a ball and folding the sides around and under. This forms a stretched band around the outside of the dough ball, and gathers all the edges into a messy seam on the bottom of the loaf. Shape it into an oblong, and place it on your prepared baking sheet. This then goes back into the warm place for another couple of hours.
4) One half hour before you will bake the bread, place a pan of water an inch deep on the bottom rack of your oven and turn it on to 500F. This will build up steam in the oven which is essential for forming a nice crust. When it has heated for a half hour, dust the dough with a little sea salt, then slam it in the hot oven on a middle rack. Leave the heat high for 5 minutes, then turn it down to 425F for 20 to 25 minutes.
5) Your bread is done when the crust is a gorgeous brown and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap the bottom. Remove it to a rack immediately and be strong, my friend. Wait AT LEAST 20 MINUTES before cutting into it because the residual heat continues to cook the centre of the loaf.
Note: Don't worry, I just threw up in my mouth a little at using "mouth feel" to talk about a beer. I'm sure a poncy dork, but at least I'm reflexive. You know you love me.
*Yeast dies. Check the date on your yeast and if the bread turns out to be a flop, it is almost certainly due to old yeast. Simple solution.
**Do it by hand without a mixer! First off, reduce the overall amount of flour you add by half a cup. Hand knead the dough for at least 5 minutes, probably more, on a floured surface and adding more flour as necessary. The dough should be smooth and elastic when you're done. Kneading for longer than you think is necessary helps the gluten strands activate and builds the imposing forearms of a Russian imperial stout drinker.