To most intents and purposes, I’m a decent cook. I’m great with vegetables, fish, pulses, pasta and puddings. When it comes to baking bread, however, I’m a complete dunderhead.
To me, baking bread is closer to alchemy than cookery. Instead of ingredients, you have base elements: water, salt, flour, microscopic-organisms, heat and precious, precious hope. Perhaps for this reason, my oven has produced many a floury quagmire and blackened cobblestone. I’m wanted for mass-murder by the yeast FBI.
Naturally, I find this incompetence fairly unsettling. Baking is something of a minimalist/frugalist/self-sufficientist linchpin. If you can somehow convert these base elements into a golden, glowing loaf, you’re symbolically empowered to do pretty much anything.
At last I have banished my incompetence. Today I produced twin golden-brown rustic loaves. Allow me to share the procedure that even a simpleton like me managed to follow:
base elements ingredients:
1.5 cups lukewarm tap water
0.75 tablespoons granulated yeast
0.75 tablespoons of coarse salt
3.25 cups all-purpose white flour (no need to sift)
1. In a large bowl, mix the yeast, water and salt. Add all the flour, then use a wooden spoon to mix until all ingredients are uniformly moist. This will produce a loose, wet dough.
2. Cover with a lid but leave room for a little air to get in. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature for 2.5 hours.
3. After rising, sprinkle a baking tray with flour.
4. Uncover the dough and sprinkle the surface with flour. Cut the dough in half with a serrated knife.
5. Take one half and roll it into an approximate ball with your hands. Place it on the floured baking tray and leave to sit for 40 minutes. Leave the other half in the bowl and place in the refrigerator, covered by a non-airtight lid. This second half will keep for up to 14 days. It can be tomorrow’s bread.
6. Put the baking tray onto the middle shelf of an oven, pre-heated to 450°F. On the bottom shelf, place a broiler containing a cup of warm water.
7. Use a knife to score a cross in the top of the loaf. Bake for 30 minutes. Bread!
This is a simplified version of a recipe in a book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.
The thing I love most about this procedure (aside from the end result) is that most of the action takes place while you’re reading a book. The yeast does the work for you. Talk about passive income. Also, this way of baking bread requires no machinery or even kneading.
We went for dinner in a favourite restaurant last night and concluded that their bread tasted like arse by comparison to mine. Here’s an ultrasound of my new baby: