Sunday, November 7, 2010

My new favorite thing to do

Yes, I realize it's been a while since my last post, and no, I didn't get lost in the woods. I finally bought myself a handy-dandy dough hook and have discovered a new hobby: bread making! Who knew? That's what I spend my free time doing now. In fact, I've been baking a loaf every few days and haven't bought bread in over a month!

"But making your own bread is so time consuming!" you say. Yes, it can be. I work full time and it can be a challenge to fit in bread making during the week. It requires some planning, but it's worth it. Not only is it cheaper than buying good quality bread, I get to control what goes into the HFCS or partially hydrogenated oils.

One of the quickest and easiest breads to make is focaccia. I don't use semolina and I use less oil than what is normally called for, but I think the results are still excellent. I brought this bread to a neighbor's soup party and everyone loved it.

It takes about 3 hours from start to finish if you do it in one sitting. Alternatively, you can make the dough and let it rise in the fridge overnight and bake it the next day. Try experimenting with the herbs and other additions. Chopped sun-dried tomatoes or olives work well. Sprinkled Parmesan on top works well too.

Focaccia Bread
Feeds 6
  • 1 tbs dry active yeast
  • 1 1/3 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 tbs sugar or honey
  • 3 to 4 tbs olive oil plus extra for brushing
  • 4 cups bread flour (all-purpose flour is okay too)
  • 1/2 to 1 tbs kosher salt
  • 1 tbs dried Italian seasonings
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced

Start by proofing the yeast in the warm water and honey for 5 to 10 minutes. The mixture should get foamy.

Add the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl. Slowly add the yeast mixture, oil and minced garlic while the mixer is running. Knead until the dough comes together. If the dough looks too dry, add water, one tablespoon at a time until the dough is smooth and comes away from the sides. If you are doing this by hand, I find it easier to put the wet ingredients into the mixing bowl first and add the dry ingredients, one cup at a time until it becomes too hard to mix. At that point, dump it out and knead by hand, until all the flour is incorporated.

Let the dough rest, covered with plastic wrap, in an oiled bowl in a warm place until doubled in size. This takes about 1 to 1.5 hours. One way to test whether you've given the dough enough time is to gently poke it with a finger. If the depression remains, it has rested enough.

After it has doubled in size, turn out the dough and shape it into a disk or rectangle about an inch thick (can be thicker if you prefer). Cover it again with plastic wrap and allow it to rest for about 30 minutes. I recommend letting it rest on parchment. That makes it easier to transfer to the oven when it's time to bake.

While the dough is resting, preheat a pizza stone in a 450F oven. If you don't have a pizza stone, you can bake the bread on a cookie sheet, but don't preheat the cookie sheet.

Bake the bread for about 13 to 15 minutes (or to a temp of 200F). Cool on a rack before serving.

I've been trying a lot of different bread recipes lately and these are the few that stand out:

Orangette's wheat and oatmeal bread I like this bread because it has whole grains like rolled oats and whole wheat. My son loves this bread because it's tender and makes a perfect breakfast slathered with butter and drizzled with honey. It will also last 3 or 4 days without drying out when properly stored.

Farmer's Bread from The Knead for Bread This is a nice rustic bread, similar to the wheat and oatmeal bread above, but not as sweet or dense. I should mention that you'll likely need about 1 additional cup bread flour than is called for in the recipe.

Oatmeal bread from King Arthur Flour This is a good white bread with the added bonus of rolled oats.

Pita bread Freshly baked, these pitas are amazingly soft. They also have a nice flavor due to the combination of whole wheat and white flour. Best of all, the dough can keep in the fridge for at least 5 days, and the longer it sits, the more developed the flavor. There was enough dough to make fresh pitas all week and pita chips with the leftovers!

Barefoot Contessa's Brioche I love (love, love!) brioche! I love Ina Garten, too! Her recipes never disappoint and this was no different. I made an extra special loaf filled with a little marzipan and ground cinnamon. Great for afternoon tea, even better for making French toast the next morning.

I've made pumpkin bread from Sass and Veracity before. It's one of my favorites and is so easy with a dough hook. This time I added a little more sugar and rolled in some raisins and sprinkled cinnamon. It also makes a wonderful French toast, and of course, pumpkin bread pudding.

I'm always on the lookout for interesting bread recipes, so do leave a comment with a link if you've got a recipe I should try!

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