Many years ago, I was living in a place which lacked a decent kosher bakery. There was only one possible way that I was going to deal with that, so I went and borrowed a book at the library and taught myself the basics. I have since picked up some great tips which I’m going to share so that you too can put together a loaf that comes out looking professional like in the picture above.
Whenever I pull out a loaf like this for guests, they ask me which bakery it’s from which is tremendously satisfying. It tastes as good as it looks – has a wonderful texture and (when fresh from the oven) the crust has a wonderful crunch.
It’s incredibly (even unbelievably) easy to make; the ingredients are inexpensive and the recipe is forgiving enough that you don’t have to go all scientific with weights and measures.
The first tip that I picked up is that you don’t have to knead the bread – just mix the ingredients with a wooden spoon – approximately 30 seconds work and then leave the yeast to work it’s magic.
The second tip involves using an iron pot (preferably a dutch oven) almost as an oven inside your oven in which to bake the bread. Commercial bakeries use steam in the baking process to give the bread it’s wonderful crust – a trick which it’s not really possible to replicate inside a regular oven. Using this method, you put your pot inside the oven to heat it up, then close your loaf inside the pot which traps the escaping steam from the dough and gives you a crust which is impressive to say the least.
The third tip that I learned is not only that you can refrigerate the dough overnight but that doing so can actually improve the flavour of the bread. I generally make a double batch and keep 1/2 in the fridge so that I’m ready to bake without too much preparation.
Lastly, the idea of using a pre-ferment or starter to the dough to give it better flavour – this basically means making some dough ahead of time and combining it with your mixture to improve flavour. In practice, if you are consistently making dough, you can deliberately leave a small amount of your last loaf to be added to the next batch.
That having been said – if you choose to ignore the last two ideas you’ll still have some fine bread. And baking using a baking tray instead of the Dutch oven won’t embarrass you either!
6 1/2 cups of flour – I use a mixture of regular and whole grain and / or rye flour – I’ve tried all sorts of combinations (usually based on what I have to hand) and all have worked pretty well – the more white, the less dense your bread will be and the more it will rise.
1 1/2 tbsp instant yeast
1 tbsp salt (more or less to taste)
3 cups of lukewarm water – if it’s too hot you’ll kill the yeast. I usually use 2 1/2 cups of cold + 1/2 cup of boiling water
In a large bowl mix all your ingredients together with a wooden spoon. Cover loosely and place in a warm spot (on top of a working clothes drier is ideal). Leave for 3 hours.
At this point it will have risen and you can either cut a piece off and make a loaf or refrigerate – or both! Flour your hands and a work surface (I use baking paper to save on clean up). If you want to do so you can add all sorts of goodies into the dough at this stage – seeds, nuts, rosemary – in this case I used sun-dried tomatoes and black olives – pull it into the shape that you want.
Cover with a clean towel and leave for 40 minutes
Whilst you are waiting turn the oven to a high heat (230c) with your dutch oven / heavy pot inside.
When you’re ready slash the loaf a couple of times with a sharp knife and carefully put into your pot, cover and put in the oven for 25 minutes.
Uncover and bake a further 12 – 15 minutes.
Leave to cool before the urge takes you to break it up and eat with butter!
Oh – your house will smell wonderful and you might find your weight going up……