It’s the very end of April, and it’s supposed to be spring, even here in Great Lakes territory. Last year at this time, my lilacs were sporting grape-colored buds; this year, they don’t even have leaves. This morning I shivered in spitting drizzle while the puppies romped at the dog park. When we got home, the girls napped on the couch, and I decided it was time for some comfort food.
I am not a baker. It’s partly from inexperience and partly a perpetual inability to resist fiddling with a recipe, any recipe. But there’s nothing like the warm scent of bread baking in your own oven, and I’m a sucker for a great crust. There are no pictures of the process here (I apologize!) because I did not have a great deal of confidence that this would actually work.
I searched my favorite blogs for a tasty bread. As so often happens, Deb at Smitten Kitchen came through with her Rustic White Bread. Her recipe made two loaves, but I halved it. She helpfully gives directions for making the dough by hand, with a stand mixer, or in the food processor. I opted for the food processor, because A. I don’t have a stand mixer (yet), and B. the food processor version meant no kneading!
I used bread flour instead of all-purpose (AP) flour, and substituted ½ cup of that for ½ cup whole wheat flour, just to add a little whole grain to our lives. I also added a teaspoon of Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset, a fancy name for a blend of herbs, lemon zest and garlic. (Told you I couldn’t leave a good recipe alone.)
The dough came together very easily. I allowed two hours for the first rise and an hour and a half for the second. The dough did not fully double in size either time, but it was, as I’d said, a cold, damp day.
I followed the baking directions exactly, and the result was absolutely gorgeous, if I say so myself. In fact, I told Luke I wanted him to spend some time admiring the golden crust and fabulously yeasty aroma, because I was worried the loaf would be all looks and no substance. But it actually was delicious, thank goodness (and Deb).
In the past, I’ve had issues with my bread being too dry. By using the food processor, I added less flour than I would have if I’d kneaded by hand. That probably accounted for the crackly, firm crust and moist (but not heavy) interior. I’d used the recommended 2 teaspoons of salt for one loaf. Tom thought the loaf, while excellent, was a tad too salty; Luke thought the salt level was fine. I’ve left the salt as is in the recipe below, but I may reduce it to 1 ½ teaspoons next time.
Rustic Loaf (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
1 ½ tsp. active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 ¾ cups bread flour (or unbleached flour), plus up to ½ cup as needed
½ cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. salt-free seasoning blend such as Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset, optional
Stir the yeast into the warm water; set aside for 2 to 3 minutes. Meanwhile, fit your food processor with a metal blade. Pulse 1 ¾ cups bread flour with the whole wheat flour, salt, and seasoning (if you’re using it) just until they’re all blended. Add the yeast and water and pulse until the dough forms a ball; if it seems too sticky to do that, add a tablespoon or two more of the bread flour. Once the dough forms a ball, let it rest in the food processor for 5 minutes.
Put about 2 tsp. oil in the bottom of a large bowl. When the 5 minutes are up, run the food processor continuously for 30 seconds. Then scrape the dough into the oiled bowl. Turn the dough over to oil both sides, cover with a damp towel, and set in a warm place to rise. It’ll take 1 to 2 hours to double in size, depending on warmth of the day.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment, then sprinkle liberally with cornmeal; set aside. Dust the counter with flour. Punch the dough down and turn out onto the floured counter. Pat into a fairly thin rectangle (mine was about 11 x 14 inches). Roll into a fat log. Transfer the log to the cookie sheet. Dust it liberally with flour, cover with a damp towel again, and set in a warm place to rise. (I let mine rise for just over an hour and a half, and it could have used another 30 minutes on this cold, damp day.)
Half an hour before you’re ready to bake, heat the oven to 500°F (yes, that hot), with one rack at the bottom and one in the middle. When you are ready to bake, place an extra pan or cookie sheet on the bottom rack to help deflect the heat and keep the bottom of your bread from burning. (I skipped this step, because I have an old gas oven that tends to run colder than the set temperature.) Using a clean razor blade or a very sharp knife, slash the bread at a diagonal 3 or 4 times. Put the bread in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 450°F. Set your timer for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, lower the temperature once more to 350°F. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes longer, until the internal temperature reaches 220°F (I confess I did not take the temperature of the bread, but as my bread could have used 5 more minutes in the oven, I probably should have.)