Another thing I inherited from Grandma—along with a deep appreciation for the warmth and sense of security that can happen in the family kitchen—was humility about my cooking and a certain dread that trying something new probably just won’t be as good as you’d hoped. “Oh, it’s not as good as…trails off…” always led to “Oh, it’s fine,” from my mom or another daughter-in-law. As the offspring of Scotch-Irish Presbyterians and Norwegian Lutherans, I ask forgiveness for these feelings.
Sitting here now as my first loaf of yeast bread (see earlier post) cools on the rack so I can have a buttered slice for breakfast, I feel a little silly for worrying about how it’s going to turn out, self-satisfied for having taken the plunge, and excited about the variations to come. That unmistakable smell of freshly-baked bread wafts down to me in my office from the kitchen. Is it time? What should I have on my first slice? Just butter. How long do I need to wait? Too long.
What did I learn? First, even though I took a risk and studied instructions from several different recipes to design my process, everything seems to have worked out. I mean, we’re talking bread here. More bread has been made by simple, un-schooled home bakers than all the commercial loaves put together, right? How hard can it be? Apparently, not that hard, as long as certain basic requirements are met:
- Use high quality, fresh ingredients.
- Follow the steps exactly until you understand how far you can go in improvising.
That’s about it. Here’s the recipe I ended up with. I’m posting this only after enjoying that first slice!
My First Loaf
- mixing bowl
- Dutch oven
- 3 cups flour For my first loaf, I used 2 cups of all-purpose white and 1 cup of white whole wheat. This was a great combination, but all-white or more wheat would have been fine, they tell me.
- 1 tsp active dry yeast My yeast had been "expired" for 3 months by the time I got around to this loaf. I will buy fresh yeast for my second loaf.
- 1 1/2 tsp salt I used fine sea salt, but I'm sure Kosher salt would have been fine.
- 1 1/2 cups water The temperature of the water is important to how fast the yeast works. I fiddled with my water until I got it to 70°. If you don't have a thermometer, room temperature-ish should be OK.
- In mixing bowl, use spatula to stir together flour, yeast, and salt.
- Add water and stir until all traces of dry flour are gone, but no more.
- Cover bowl with plastic wrap or towel. Let it sit for 18 hours on the kitchen counter. Yes, that's right, 18 hours.
- When the 18 hours are up, place the covered Dutch oven in the regular oven and pre-heat everything to 450°.
- While oven heats, gently remove dough to heavily floured counter. Shape into round ball. It will be temping to "work it" but just let it be until the oven is ready. Sprinkle flour on your hands and the bread liberally to avoid stickiness.
- Carefully remove Dutch oven from regular oven. Keep remembering that it's really hot! Remove the cover. Place the dough in the Dutch oven and return the pot, covered, to the oven.
- Bake for 30 minutes covered.
- Remove the cover and bake an additional 10 minutes.
- Remove Dutch oven. Remove your bread to a rack to cool off. It doesn't stick to the pot at all.
- Wait at least 30 minutes before cutting bread. It won't be easy. Just do it.
- Slice and eat your first piece. And then your next as you bask in your success. If there's any bread left after awhile, share with adoring family and friends.