Here’s the deal with making bread – pretty much every recipe you look at will be somewhat intimidating. Once you make whatever it is you’re trying to make once though, the next time will be a snap. That’s the truth about things. Making bread really isn’t difficult. All you need is a little practice. Hey, if those people in bakeries can make all different types of loaves, day in and day out, we can do it too.
As I make my way through my Bread Illustrated book, I’m picking up on a few things. So far, I know that temperature matters when it comes to the dough rising. Also, the yeast I use has to be good. It can’t be old and dead. Flavor is derived from rising time and if you are using a relatively fast rise, using beer as a liquid can compensate for some of the lost flavor. Finally, kneading is important. Kneading creates gluten which creates elasticity. Gas is created as the dough rests and that gas creates little air pockets which makes the dough rise. Without the elasticity, the gas would escape through the dough’s surface and it wouldn’t properly rise. It’s all really simple if you think about it long enough.
This is the recipe you should be thinking of when good ol’ traditional bread comes to mind. Bread flour, yeast, salt, water, beer and oil is all you need. Mix everything together, knead the dough for a few minutes, let it rise and bake it. This type of bread making can’t get any more straightforward. If I had to guess, the kneading and rising is what makes people nervous. Well, if you follow my instructions below, I can walk you through the way to a perfect loaf of classic Italian bread. I promise.
As I mentioned above, because of the relatively fast rise of this dough (1 1/2 hours), there isn’t much flavor development. To overcome this, the recipe creators used beer as the majority of the necessary liquid. The beer adds back come of the nice yeasty flavor that’s present in breads with a much longer rise time.
Another aspect of this bread is how the loaf is formed. Initially, it’s flattened out after it rises and then it’s folded and rolled in such a way that it’s densest in the center. It’s also pulled taut around the surface, so it will appear tight when it’s finished baking.
I’m excited about this recipe because I never, in a million years, thought I’d be making real Italian bread. Today, I did just that and it came out perfectly. If I can do it, anyone can.
Makes: 1 Loaf of Bread
3 Cups Bread Flower
1 1/2 Teaspoons Rapid-Rise Yeast
1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
1 Cup Lager, Room Temperature
6 Tablespoons Water, Room Temperature
2 Tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
I’d like to thank America’s Test Kitchen for their cookbook called Bread Illustrated. So far, this little bit of heaven has been wonderful to me. I’ve perfectly made a few loaves of bread so far and I have this organization to thank. I’ve messed up a lot of bread making efforts in my life, but I don’t see that happening anymore. So thank you again.
Mix Dry Ingredients
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flour, yeast and salt.
With a whisk, mix these ingredients well.
Mix Wet Ingredients
In a 4-cup measuring cup, add the beer, water and olive oil.
Mix these ingredients as well.
Mix the Dough
Attach the bowl to the stand mixer (and use the hook attachment), turn the mixer on low and begin to pour the wet ingredients into the bowl slowly. When all the wet ingredients are added to the bowl and the dough begins to come together, increase the speed to medium-low and continue mixing for 8 minutes. You may need to stop from time to time to scrape the dough from the hook attachment. This is the primary process for creating the necessary gluten structure.
Knead the Dough by Hand
Next, lightly flour a counter top and pour the dough from the bowl onto it. Then, while adding flour if necessary, knead the dough by hand for about 1 minute. After that, pull the dough into a ball and add it to a lightly oiled large bowl.
Cover the bowl tightly with a piece of plastic wrap and let the dough rise for about 1 1/2 hours. Now, it’s important to keep the bowl in room temperature or around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is too warm, the dough will rise too fast and if it’s too cool, it’ll rise too slowly. This is one area to be very careful of when making bread.
Shape the Dough
The next step is to shape the dough into something that looks like Italian bread. The method for doing this isn’t to simply roll it into a tube shape. I’ll explain below.
After the dough has risen to about double its original size, remove it from the bowl and place it on a lightly floured counter top. Then, tamp the dough down with your fingertips and shape it into a 10 inch square. After that, fold the two top corners down to the center of the square, as if you’re making an envelope.
So far, you should have a hunk of dough on the counter that looks like a house. A few walls and a roof. Continuing on – take the peak of the roof, or the top point of the dough, and fold 1/3 of the piece down onto itself. Then, take the dough from the top and fold it towards you in half.
The basic premise is this – you initially make a square. Then, to add extra dough to the center of the loaf you’re making, you need to fold some material in onto itself. After that, you continue to roll the dough up so it looks sort of like an Italian bread. At the same time, you’re stretching the outside of the dough so it’s nice and tight and will hold its shape while baking.
When you’re finished with all that, carefully slide your hands under each side of the dough and place it on top of a piece of parchment paper, seam side down. The final piece should be about 15 inches long and 4 inches wide. If it isn’t these measurements, you can roll it gently until it stretches into shape.
Let Dough Rise Again
Gently cover the dough with a piece of plastic wrap. You can just lay the plastic on top of it. Let the dough rise for another 30 minutes to one hour, again, keeping tabs on the room temperature of around 70 degrees. The dough should rise about 50%.
About 15 minutes before the end of the second rise, adjust one of your oven racks to the center position. Then, warm the oven to 450 degrees.
Bake the Bread
After the dough has risen for the second time, make a slice across the top of it about 1/2 inch deep (using a very sharp knife or a razor blade), keeping about 2 inches on each side untouched.
This slice will allow the bread to open up and rise more in the oven.
Next, pick up the edges of the parchment paper and slide it onto a heavy baking sheet. I used my cast iron pizza sheet. When the oven is to temperature, place the baking sheet onto the center rack and let the bread bake for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the tray half way through.
The Final Bread
I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to the fact that so few and such simple ingredients can make something so wonderful. I mean really now. Anyway, when you’re bread looks like this, remove it from the oven and turn off the heat. Let everything cool for about an hour before cutting into it.
A real perk to baking bread is that the house smells great the entire time. Even when the dough is rising, the house smells good. Give this one a try and let me know how you make out. Thanks for reading!