Thursday, January 28, 2010

No Fuss

I find that with cooking and baking the no-fuss methods are the ones I repeatedly return to. And that is the point, right? How to make home-cooking a regular part of one's life. Some folks like a recipe with a million steps and they love the craft of it. Those folks enjoy approaching most cooking and baking as if they were sewing a blouse or designing a house. But I like to assemble ingredients that essentially cook themselves; marinades, soups, stews, bread.


Recently I taught a bread-baking class in a friend's kitchen. I didn't realize that I had never posted my bread recipe, so here it is.

I use my own leavening. It was originally a San Francisco sourdough starter, but after ten years it has become Woonsocket Rhode Island sourdough starter! Sourdough is flavorful and also a natural preservative. At first I used Fleischmann's yeast with my blob of sourdough because I was too afraid to rely on the sourdough. When the price of yeast skyrocketed to eight dollars a jar, I took the plunge and now I only use my sourdough as leavening! I'm convinced that keeping the starter culture alive and healthy is what keeps me baking.

If you are going to use commercial yeast I recommend using Fleischmann's brand yeast. (Not the quick rise! Not the bread machine yeast, and not Red Star brand yeast!) In my experience dough made with any other yeast doesn't spring back for the multiple risings which are crucial to the flexibility in my baking schedule. Yeast needs to be fresh, so make sure the expiration date is not past.

I use medium-grind whole-wheat flour which I buy in 50 pound bags from JAR Baker's Supply in Lincoln RI. The 50 pound bag is about 12 dollars!

Here's the basic recipe:

6 cups flour
3 cups wrist-temperature water
one tablespoon of kosher salt (less for fine grain salt)
one teaspoon of yeast (or a blob of sourdough starter)

Mix all the ingredients and set the dough aside to rise until doubled in bulk. You don't even need to proof the yeast or knead the dough, just gather the dough into a ball, place it in a bowl or container, and let it sit, covered. Time does the work of kneading and developing flavor! This rising takes 8-20 hours depending on whether you use sourdough starter or yeast, and depending on how cold or warm your rising spot is. Have faith!

Punch the risen dough down and shape the dough into two loaves or boules, then let it rise again on pans under a cloth. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. When the loaves have risen significantly, slash the tops (so the dough has room to expand in the oven), place them in the oven, and bake for 35 minutes. To check for doneness, tap the bottom of the loaf. It should sound hollow.

Note: If you want to add molasses to the dough, lower the baking temperature to 400 degrees and be prepared to increase the baking time ten minutes.