In November, I had a great opportunity to take a bread class from the bread master, Peter Reinhart at Johnson & Wales University. You might have read his challah recipe in my post. This bread was the only regular bread (read: not sweet) we made that day and made the class worthwhile for me! Since then, I have made this bread many times because it is so easy, does not require hardcore kneading, and the dough keeps in the fridge for up to four days. So you can bake fresh small loaf every day if you want to. We love the taste and I love how easy it is.
I made this bread again this weekend for dinner and my mother-in-law asked if I got this beautiful bread from the farmer’s market! I was humbled by the compliment since some local artisan bakery shops have their booths at the farmer markets, selling their goodies! When I told her that I made it, she said that I should definitely post this bread on my blog.
The bread tastes very good if you bake it right away but even better with every day the dough sits in the fridge. Cold, slow fermentation gradually develops the flavor and works the gluten. A period of four days is considered its maximum fridge life. After that point, the quality of gluten suffers due to increased alcohol in the dough. Also, we were cautioned that after four days, the crust will not caramelize to give that beautiful golden brown color since the natural sugar content will decrease.
What makes this bread easy is the different type of kneading involved: stretch-and-fold. Within an hour of making the dough, you have to stretch the dough and fold it on itself for four times. In the first two times, you might have a hard time with the messy dough, but it gets firmer with each folding.
I normally take it out of the oven as soon as it is done baking. This yields a softer crust. If you are the hard-crust type, turn off the oven and keep the bread for another 10-15 min in the oven without opening its door. Also, you can halve the amount given below or substitute 2 oz of wheat or rye flour for the same amount of bread flour used for an earthier texture.
I do not always listen to my husband when he tells me to do stuff, but I do listen to my mother-in-law! So, here is the recipe.
Lean Dough (Peter Reinhart’s “Artisan Breads Everday” class)
- 24 oz (5-1/3 cups) unbleached bread flour
- 2 teaspoons table salt
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 18 oz (2-1/4 cups) lukewarm water
1. Combine everything in a big bowl and stir for 2 minutes with a wooden spoon. Keep a glass of warm water handy to dip your spoon in if the dough cakes up on it. The dough will come together but will look shaggy and sticky.
2. Lightly oil another bowl and transfer the dough into the bowl.Let it rest for 5 minutes.
3. Oil your hands lightly. Stretch the dough to a little square and fold two opposite ends on top of each other and then fold the other two ends. Bring the seam side down and place it in the bowl. Let it rest 10 minutes.
4. After ten minutes, lightly oil a surface and transfer the dough. Stretch it into a square or rectangle. Fold the two opposite ends together, then the other two. Repeat this two more times, with 10 minutes resting periods in between. You have to complete this 4-stretch-fold steps in an hour.
5. At this point, you can store the dough in the fridge. It will rise in the fridge in the next 4-12 hours. Or you can let it rise until it doubles in size at room temperature and continue with baking.
6. Once it doubles, transfer the dough onto a working surface. Cut with kitchen scissors or serrated knife. Do not try to pull it apart since that pulling action actually hurts the gluten bonds formed.
7. You can shape both doughs the way you want, but refrain from handling it aggressively. I usually make a ball and tuck the ends and seams underneath the ball. Put cornmeal or semolina on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat. (I used parchment paper and the paper got stuck on the crust! Lesson learned!) Place the dough and let it rest for another 60 minutes, uncovered. This will dry out the skin, making it easier to score if you want.
8. Preheat the oven to 550-degrees. Place a ramekin full of water on the bottom rack in the oven.
9. At the end of the hour, with a serrated knife or sharp razor, score the top of the bread up to 1/2 inch, the way you want it. Make sure you score it with a quick move. Once the oven is heated, place the baking sheet(s) on the middle rack and close the door quickly. Turn the heat down to 450-degrees. Bake for 10-12 minutes, turn the sheet 180-degrees. Bake for another 10-15 minutes or until the bread is rich, golden color.