Monday, April 25, 2011

Baking... Rustic Style

Remember a couple months ago I said I did a fun baking experiment but forgot to take pictures of it?  (This one.) I finally got around to doing it again, though it wasn't exactly the same.

Anyone who knows me knows that I loooooove baked goods.  Pastries, cakes, pies, cookies, bread... you name it, I love it.  And think twice about having me babysit your donut if you ever want to see it again.  So it goes without saying that rustic bread makes me very happy.  You know, soft and doughy on the inside, thick and chewy crust on the outside.  It makes the best sandwiches and toast.

I've been making rustic bread for a while now, though when I first started I didn't realize how scientific the whole process was.  You can't just make the dough, let it rise for a bit and throw it in the oven.  No, no.  The whole process usually takes about 24 hours, and requires some special equipment.

This is the trusty website that I used when I first started making rustic bread.  It does a good job explaining the whole process and why it needs to be done that way.  It's a good basic recipe that I use and then make small adjustments based on my bread mood.

For this go-round, just like the recipe calls for, I started with:
3 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 (heaping) tsp. yeast

I also added two tablespoons sugar and a coarsley chopped head of roasted garlic.  Yep, this is gonna be roasted garlic bread.  Hold on to your butts!

I mixed everything except the garlic and let it rest to rise overnight.  The next morning, the dough was getting nice and bubbly, and I added the coarsely chopped roasted garlic cloves.  I let that rise again for another 10 hours.  Here's the cool part about this bread: the dough is really wet and sticky which makes it nearly impossible to knead without adding too much extra flour to it.  So you don't have to knead it!  Well, kinda.  I just take a wooden spoon or a spatula and just mix the dough (warning: tired arms result,) until it gets nice and elasticky.  That's the sign that the gluten in the flour has developed, giving you a chewier bread.  It doesn't take too long to get there.

Ok, now the good part: baking.  In order to get the right consistency on the crust, (thick and chewy) you have to bake it in something with a lid.  The lid allows the bread to be steamed in a way which results in the awesome crust everyone loves.  I've used pyrex baking dishes before, which work well, but my parents just recently gave me this:

Cast iron, baby!  This thing is awesome... and heavy.  I feel rustic just holding it.  This works the best.  Every since I started baking rustic bread in this, my success rate has doubled.

Ok, so in order to prevent the bread from sticking to the sides, you have to pretty much coat it in flour.  I usually "knead" it one last time just before baking and let it rise again for about 30 minutes while the oven is preheating.  It's also important to put the baking dish, whatever you're using, into the oven while it's preheating.  475 degrees is what you want.  HOT.

(Now just to get off topic a bit:  The reason I was so excited about this when I mentioned it a couple months ago is because that time, I baked it in our wood stove!  Sustainable baking, baby!  I built a fire as usual, but once the fire was almost done, I scraped all the coals to the back and put the cast iron right inside.  I don't know what the temp of the oven was, I think it was pretty low because instead of 25 minutes, the bread took about 45 minutes to bake.  But it worked and it was delicious.  It's too bad we're not really in wood stove season anymore, (even though the weather totally sucks,) but I'll definitely do it a lot next winter.)

Ok, back to the present.  Once the oven is ready, take the dough and plop it into the hot dish while it's still in the oven.  Put the lid on, and set the timer for 20 minutes.  If the top is still not brown after that, add five minutes until it looks like this:
Mmmmm... Now listen to it.  You'll know the crust is right when it talks to you.  It sounds like a light crackling.  Wait 20 minutes, slice a nice thick piece, load it with butter, and enjoy!
What flavor should I make next?

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