Sundays are for resting, relaxing and taking your time. I love to wander in and out of the kitchen on Sunday. I find it the perfect day to make things that can last well into the week. Soup (like the one from yesterday), cookies, stew, ham – anything that takes some time (but not too much work) are perfect Sunday projects.
Like most baking, bread is a formula. Once you learn the formula and the procedure you can be creative and make lots of variations. But baking bread is hard, right? Let’s think about that for a second.. Bread is all throughout history. Bread is in every culture, every religion and every neighborhood. Nomads baked bread on rocks in the desert. Bread is the most ubiquitous food on the planet. How hard could it be? Once you bake a loaf of bread you will never want to go back to that packaged stuff with all the junk in it. Bread should have a handful of natural ingredients and that’s all.
- 4 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
- 2 1/2 Cups Warm Water
- 2 Teaspoons Active Dried Yeast
- 1 Teaspoon Sugar
- 1 Teaspoon Fine Sea Salt
- Course Sea Salt
- 1 Tablespoon Finely Chopped Rosemary
- 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
- Corn Starch
- Heavy Duty Electric Stand Mixer with Bread Hook (or hand mixer)
- Pizza Stone or Cookie Sheet
- Pizza Peel (Optional)
- Rubber Spatula
- Wire Rack (Optional)
The actual process of baking bread is not time consuming, but the stages are. If you don’t have a mixer of any sort you can do this by hand. It has been done that way for hundreds of years. If you choose to do it by hand, be prepared to get your back into it. Kneading dough by hand requires ten minutes of non-stop pounding and pushing and pulling.
- In the mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water with the sugar. Stir to dissolve. Let it sit for about 10-20 minutes.
- This would be a good time to chop the rosemary.
- When the yeast mixture becomes a little foamy, stir in the salt.
- Slowly add in the flour as you beat on low speed.
- Once all of the flour has been combined, knead at high speed for about 8-10 minutes. You may need to keep a hand on the top of the mixer. At high speed they tend to walk around a bit on the counter top.
- In the last minute or so add the rosemary and olive oil. If you don’t like the taste of rosemary you could substitute olives or garlic, or nothing at all. The dough will be ready when it is sticky, and is all wrapped around the hook and not in the bowl.
- Remove the bowl from the mixer stand, place it in a warm place and cover with a clean dish towel.
- Let the dough sit for about two and a half hours to rise. It become about twice its size.
- Shake a layer of cornstarch onto a pizza peel. If you don’t have a pizza peel, you can use parchment or wax paper. You want something that isn’t going to stick to your very sticky dough.
- Remove the dough with a rubber spatula (or your fingers) onto the peel. Form it into a rectangular loaf. Don’t worry, it will not look particularly pretty at this point.
- Cover with a clean dish towel and let sit for about another ½ hour.
- Pre heat the oven with the pizza stone in it to 500º. If you are using a cookie sheet, pre heat it instead.
- Carefully slide the loaf onto the stone. You may need a pastry knife or large spatula to scrape a little. If you are using a cookie sheet, carefully remove it with mitts or double towels, place it on the stovetop and slide or flip the loaf onto it. Carefully place it back in the oven.
- Sprinkle some course sea salt on the top of the loaf and a little of the rosemary if you are so inclined. This is not necessary, but I love the extra saltiness.
- There is an old trick that you can spray or flick water onto the bottom of the oven several times in the first five minutes. This will help the outside of the bread become crisp. I also know of people placing an oven proof cup or small container of water in with it to create steam. None of these things are really necessary, but do it if you feel like it. I spray water with a spray bottle. Be warned though, I did this once, carelessly spraying the water in an old oven and blew out the light bulb all into the dough, ruining my bread.
- The bread should turn a golden brown after about 10 minutes.
- Turn the oven down to 325º at this point and continue baking for about another 20 minutes.
- Thump on the bread at this point. It should sound hollow.
Remove to a wire baking rack and let sit for at least one hour, longer if you can stand it. The bread will continue to cook on the inside as it cools. This bread will last most of the week in a sealed plastic bag. If any of it actually lasts that long, make some croutons.