Before we get into the best bread ever, I’m going to first admit something – posts will not be as frequent this summer. There. Rather than feel bad about it, I’m just going to embrace it. Fall, on the other hand, will be a different story.
With that out of the way, I wanted to share an amazing bread recipe from Smitten Kitchen which yes, takes a bit of time to make (not a lot of “hands on” time, but a lot of waiting for the dough to do things like rise), but it is absolutely worth it. I made this yesterday for our sandwiches this week and it’s received great reviews so far.
I am going to take verbatim Deb’s instructions because a) I didn’t change much and b) they are detailed enough that even a novice bread maker (like myself) can get a successful loaf out of it, if you follow these to a T. The whole process took me about 6 hours (not including the shopping beforehand…a tip: rye flour isn’t sold everywhere. I suggest a bulk food store, like Bulk Barn), but I only had to actively do something for about 30 minutes. The rest was just making sure the dough was rising properly and letting it rest while I ran other errands. All the words are hers, but the photos are mine – just to prove that it can be done!
3/4 cup (4 ounces, 117 grams) bread flour
3/4 cup (3.3 ounces, 95 grams) rye flour
1/2 teaspoon (1.6 grams) instant yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons (0.6 ounces, 18.7 grams) sugar
1/2 tablespoon (4.6 grams) malt powder (or barley malt syrup or honey (10.5 grams), or sugar (6.2 grams)) *I used the sugar version*
1 1/2 cups (12.5 ounces, 354 grams) water, at room temperature
2 1/4 cups (12.5 ounces, 351 grams) bread flour
1/2 plus 1/8 teaspoon (2 grams) instant yeast
2 tablespoons (0.5 ounces, 14 grams) caraway seeds (you can grind these if you want to avoid the crunch)
1/2 tablespoon (0.3 ounces, 10.5 grams) coarse salt
Dough and Baking
1/2 tablespoon (0.25 ounces, 6.7 grams) vegetable oil
about 2 teaspoons (about 0.5 ounces, 16 grams) cornmeal for sprinkling
Make the sponge: Combine sponge ingredients in a large or mixer bowl and whisk until very smooth, to intentionally incorporate air — this will yield a thick batter. Set it aside.
Make the flour mixture and cover the sponge: In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour mixture and gently scoop it over the sponge to cover it completely. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and allow it to ferment for 1 to 4 hours at room temperature. (The sponge will bubble through the flour mixture in places.)
Mix the dough [Either with a mixer - I used the mixer version] Add the oil and mix with the dough hook on low-speed for about 1 minute, until the flour is moistened enough to form a rough dough. then raise the speed to medium and mix it for 10 minutes. The dough should be very smooth and elastic, and it should jump back when pressed with a fingertip; if it is sticky, turn it out on a counter and knead in a little extra flour.
[Or by hand] Add the oil and, with a wooden spoon or your hand, stir until the flour is moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together, then scrape it onto a very lightly floured counter. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, after which it might be a little sticky. Cover it with the inverted bowl and allow it to rest for 20 minutes. (Resting the dough makes it less sticky and magically easier to work with. Trust me.) Knead the dough for another 5 to 10 minutes or until it is very smooth and elastic and your upper arms are strapless gown-ready.
Let the dough rise: Place the dough in a large container or bowl, lightly oiled. Oil the top of the dough as well. Allow the dough to rise until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Flip the bowl over and let the dough fall out on to a lightly floured counter, press it down gently, fold or form it back into a square-ish ball and allow it to rise a second time, back in the (re-oiled) bowl covered with plastic wrap for about 45 minutes.
Shape it and wait out the final rise: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and gently press it down again. Round it into a ball and set it on a cornmeal sprinkled baking sheet. (*I wanted to get a loaf out of this, so I lightly oiled a bread pan, sprinkled the base with cornmeal and shaped the dough for the last time in here). Cover it with oiled plastic wrap and let it rise until almost doubled, about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. [Skim ahead to preheating your oven, which you should do soon.] When it is gently press with a fingertip, the depression will very slowly fill in.
Preheat the oven: Preheat the oven to 450°F as early as you can tolerate. (*I did it about 30 minutes before – the hotter the oven, the more crunchy the crust!) On a shelf at the lowest level, place a baking sheet or bread stone. [If you want to get fancy and bread-oven like: Place a cast-iron skillet or sheet pan on the floor of the oven to preheat.]
Slash and bake the bread: With a sharp knife or singled-edged razor blade, make 1/4- to 1/2-inch-deep slashes in the top of the dough. Mist the dough with water and quickly but gently set the baking sheet on the hot stone or hot baking sheet (*Or, just put the bread pan in the oven). [If you've decided to get fancy and bread oven-like: Toss 1/2 cup of ice cubes into the pan beneath and immediately shut the door.] Bake for 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 400°F and continue baking for 30 to 40 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean (or a thermometer inserted into the center reads 190°F; I prefer this method because you’ve done much too much work to possibly end up with an under- or over-baked loaf of bread).
Cool the bread on a wire rack. And enjoy the deliciousness!