Overcoming Fear of Yeast
It snowed today. The first of what will no doubt be many days spent inside watching the white flakes and considering and rejecting various outdoor activities. The snow awoke in me the yearning for the aroma of warm bread baking drifting through the house . . . well actually, it awoke in me a great deal of fear and shame. Last January, I made a measly four culinary New Year’s resolutions, and, well, here it is mid-November, and I’m only batting about 500. I did make a few loaves of decent no-knead bread, but my yeast baking hasn’t advanced very far.
So, with the prospect of a gray November day ahead of me and the additional incentive of staying home to finally put paid to this cold, I pulled out Rose Levy Berenbaum’s The Bread Bible, a book that has made a handsome addition to my coffee table (note, not my kitchen) lately, and got to work.
I made her beginning “hearth bread,” trying for a sort of artisanal, open-crumbed loaf. Since I still am paralyzed by Fear of Kneading (oh so many wasted loaves in my past . . . delightful smelling bricks, discarded after one slice), I used the dough hook on my Kitchenaid as an enabler, quelling my anxiety long enough to actually get the loaf in the oven. And you know, that makes it pretty darn easy. The resulting loaf was pretty rough looking, in a sort of hubba-hubba way, but tender and flavorful. Probably my best bread, in a not very successful bread-baking career.
This recipe is not difficult, but it does take the better part of a day, as it includes a fermentation step and three risings, as well as 30-40 minutes cooking. It has some interesting steps that made me feel like I was embarked upon rather a complicated adventure (put a cast iron skillet on the floor of the oven? Like, where? OK, substitute a loaf pan and wedge it between the coils in the heating element. Throw ice cubes in the heated pan? Say what?) but it’s really pretty simple if you read the recipe a few times and pay attention. I didn’t and ended up using regular flour instead of bread flour without adjusting accordingly, but it was still all good. Very good, as a matter of fact.
Here are the steps, with a bit of commentary:
1. Make a sponge:
In a bowl, whisk together 1 cup bread flour , 1/4 cup of whole wheat flout, 3/8 t instant yeast, 1 1/4 t honey and 1 1/3 cups of water at room temperature. Mix until very smooth, about two minutes, and set aside covered with plastic wrap.
2. Make flour mixture:
Whisk together 1 3/4 cups plus 2 T bread flour (add, ahem, another 1/3 cup of if using reguar unbleached flour), and 1/2 t instant yeast.
This is interesting. Just scrape the flour mixture on top of the sponge, cover with plastic again, and set it aside at room temperature. No mixing. In the next couple of hours, the sponge will ferment up over the flour. I left mine for two hours, which was successful, but apparently the longer the better. Four hours would be good.
With a dough hook, mix the dough-in-process for about a minute (at #2 on a Kitchenaid), put the plastic wrap back on and set aside for 20 minutes. Then sprinkle 1 1/2 t salt on top of the dough and knead with the dough hook for about seven minutes (using setting #4 on the Kitchenaid).
5. First rise:
Scape the dough into an oiled bowl and oil the top. Cover with plastic wrap again (I kept using the same piece over and over) and set in a warm place to rise. If you are lucky enough to have a sauna that you have used earlier in the day, that’s a great place for the dough. OK, doesn’t apply to many of you, but it works at our house.
6. Second rise:
When the dough has doubled in size, take it out, put it on a floured surface, and pat it down into a rectangle. Fold the rectangle up as if you were folding a letter, then round the edges. Put it back in the bowl, put the plastic wrap back on, and put it back in the sauna. Well, wherever.
7. Get the oven going:
Preheat the oven to 475. If you have a baking stone, put it in on the lowest rack. If you don’t, put a sheet pan on the rack. Somehow wedge a small, heat-proof pan onto the floor of your oven.
8. Shaping and third rise:
After another hour or so when the dough has redoubled, take it out and put it on a floured surface. Gently shape it into a ball. Transfer the ball to a small cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Oil it one more time, cover it with that ratty old piece of plastic wrap and let it rise for another 45 minutes to an hour. You don’t need the sauna this time.
9. Cook the damn thing, finally.
Right before cooking, slash the top (decoratively if you can) with a sharp knife and mist the top with water. Put the cookie sheet on top of the baking stone or sheet pan. Gingerly toss some ice cubes into the pan in the bottom of the oven, shut the door and wait while things start to smell good. After ten minutes, turn the oven down to 425. The bread is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 200 degree. Berenbaum says this will be another 20-30 minutes, but mine took less than 15 more (or 25 total).
On a wire rack. All the way. Really. When finally cool, slice a piece off, coat with butter and celebrate your fearlessness.