Every year around . . . probably April Hubby and I start in. “North Carolina sounds good, don’t you think?” or “Yeah, Atlanta is supposed to be really nice, too.” sometimes we even talk about “Arizona! We could move to Arizona! I love the desert, it’s so good for allergies.” And so on. The thing is, in Michigan, by April the last thing you want to do is be cold. You’re just sure you’re going to peek out the back door one frigid morning and see a polar bear, even though you KNOW it’s supposed to be almost spring . . . it’s not. It’s. Still. TOO. Cold.
But we don’t move. And every October I’m glad that I still live in the Midwest. Because, if there is one reason why I wouldn’t leave it’s because of the autumn. Amazing stuff, folks. It is 100% without a doubt my favorite season. The trees are stunning. The weather is cooler, not cold, but crisp and refreshing. Pumpkin farms are open and super popular here. Every corner boasts a “corn-maze” where you can go and just get lost wandering through some farmer’s old corn stalks. And as you walk through the corn maze you are reminded by the crunch-crunch under your feet that soon there won’t be any leaves left on the trees.
Apples and pumpkins are in season and that means fresh cider at the road side stands, fresh warm spiced applesauce at Grandma’s on Sunday, and pumpkin pie for dessert. Quite frankly, it doesn’t get much better than that.
And so we stay. I’m going to ask you guys to remind me I said all these wonderful things about the Midwest in January when I’m digging out of the driveway on the kid’s fifth snow day of the year, o.k.?
Since it’s cooler outside (and in the kitchen) and I’ve got fresh applebutter up in the pantry I decided I better get back to bread making. I personally have no problem smearing applebutter all over my fingers to eat it, but not everyone around here feels the same. After a couple of days of that the kids even start to complain. You know, I just want to know when kids became so darned demanding – thinking they need bread for applebutter. The nerve. Well, anyhow.
At the end of last winter I had started perfecting the baking method I use. In typical Angie fashion, I had taken lots of notes so that I wouldn’t forget what to do. And, also in typical Angie fashion, I have no idea where the heck I’ve put the notes. Nor do I remember anything about the highly technical process that I had honed and was prepared to share with you as soon as I had one extra free minute.
So. I started over. Thankfully, most of it came back to me once I started baking. It’s a lot like riding a bike . . . although I did get on a bike this past summer and let me tell you – Yes, I did remember how to do it, but OUCH – I don’t remember my rear-end feeling that way the next day. Yeah, so where was I? Ah yes . . . bread.
Today I want to do two things. First I want to share with you the method for cooking a fantastic rustic loaf of bread – a method you can use with great results with just about ANY loaf of bread you make. I personally do love great recipes and I think it’s really important that you all have a good source for getting those recipes (here is fine, or somewhere else if you must), but even more important you need to know HOW to make things and how to get great results. That’s why I’m going to spend some time on this topic today.
Second, I want to give you a recipe for bread that I just can’t get enough of. You’ll feel the same. I just got a hunch you will, ya know?
Baking an amazing loaf of bread takes a few tools. I use my bread machine to mix up bread dough. That’s up to you – you can make it by hand if you’d rather, or use your mixer or food processor, whatever works for you. This process really begins AFTER the bread dough is mixed. So. You’ll need a batch of bread dough.
You’ll also need:
A baker’s stone if you have one. Use a heavy sheet pan if you do not.
On older pan with sides at least 1 inch tall, one that you don’t mind if it looks icky when you’re done.
A disposable pie plate or bread pan. Really any smaller disposable baking dish is fine.
Start out by making the bread. You can use this recipe (It’s reaaaaally yummy. Hey, I’m just sayin’) or any other.
Give Me Five Bread
3/4 cup warm water (110-115F)
1 cup warm milk (100-115F)
1 egg yolk, reserve the egg white
1/4 cup butter, soft
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for the pastry board
2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg white
1 Tablespoon water
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon dried minced onion
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
I use my bread machine for the mixing part of this recipe. I add the liquid ingredients and softened butter in the bottom of the pan, put the flour over the liquid and add the salt, sugar and yeast in opposite corners. Use the dough cycle.
If you make your bread by hand dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the milk, sugar, butter, egg yolk, salt and half the flour and beat until smooth. Stir in enough flour to make a very soft dough. Place the dough in a large bowl sprayed with cooking spray and turn it over once to coat the dough. Let rise one hour.
At this point the directions are the same.
Turn the dough out onto a well floured pastry board or counter. This is a very soft and sticky dough. Knead the bread, adding flour in only as necessary to make it possible to work with the dough.
Divide the dough in half and shape it into rounds. Tuck the edges of the dough underneath to give it a smooth, nice appearance on top. Flour left on top is o.k. on a rustic loaf, it makes it look cool. We’re all about the cool at Angie’s Pangies. Place each round on a piece of 15X15 parchment paper.
Beat the egg white and the water together and brush over the top of the rounds. If you don’t have a pastry brush, you can just use your fingers to slather it over the top.
Mix the seeds, onions and salt in a small bowl and sprinkle half over each round.
Let the rounds rise for about 30 minutes.
While the rounds are rising you can get ready to bake.
I want you to crank your oven up to 500 degrees or so. Just set it really hot.
Place the baking stone in the dead center of the oven.
On the bottom of the oven, place the old cake pan. It should be way larger than the disposable pan and centered on the bottom.
Use a sharp knife and carefully poke a few small holes into the bottom of the disposable pan.
Fill a narrow container, such as a vase with about 1 1/2 cups of room temperature water.
When 30 minutes have passed, or when the bread has doubled in size, turn the oven down to 375 degrees, and open the oven door. (BLAST OF HEAT! WOO!)
Underneath the baking stone, on a seperate rack, place the disposable pan.
Carefully pick up one piece of parchment paper with the risen dough round and set it down on top of the baking stone.
Quickly pour the water into the disposable pan (with the holes.) As soon as you are done pouring the water shut the oven door! There should be sizzling and steam everywhere – that’s the point – you’re creating steam in the oven to produce a thick, brown, shiny crust.
After 20 minutes, check the bread. If the top is golden brown, it is likely done. If it is not quite evenly brown, you can give it up to another 5 minutes. Carefully remove the bread from the oven by grabbing the corner of the paper and pulling the loaf onto a hot pad in the other hand (or if you have a paddle you can use that – a giant pancake turner can work well, too). Leave the stone in the oven.
Turn the oven back up for 5 or 10 minutes, then repeat the process for the second round.
Now, if you’ve made it to the end of all of this, you may be asking. Angie Pangie, why am I doing all of this? Why would anyone go through all this rigamarole?
The simple answer is because it makes awesome bread.
The middle of the road answer is because bread does most of it’s rising in the first 10 minutes of baking – so by placing it on a very hot stone in a very hot oven you get a great big spring from the yeast – sort of like it’s last dying act it goes “POOF”. The steam is, like I mentioned earlier, there to help make the crust amazing. You can read more about yeast spring and such here (this would be the other end of the road answer).
I add the dripping disposable pan to my method because I like for some steam to be made after I close the door. When I added all the water to the hot cake pan on the bottom the steam had been created – and was mostly gone – before I ever got the door shut. This just slows down the process a bit more. But, you can skip that step if you want and just add water to the hot pan on the bottom.
Now, go out, be fruitful . . . and bake bread!