How to make bread

I’ve never had much luck with recipes requiring yeast.  Either the dough didn’t rise, or I over-proofed it and it collapsed. Recipes calling for yeast always seemed very science-y to me. You know, requiring you adhere to the recipe exactly. I will say that this recipe does require you follow the steps to the letter, if only to really understand your dough and how it should be progressing.

I actually found out about this cookbook through Jenna Fischer’s instagram account (she played Pam in the Office) . I felt compelled to watch along as she baked her way through this book and decided I would try it out. If you’re so inclined, you too can find the book here.

As an introduction to bread baking, I decided to start off slow and make ‘No Knead Bread’. I followed her instructions, keen to have success with yeast. It was here that I was hit with the science. Bonnie suggests taking the temperature of your all-purpose flour and the air where you’re going to be cooking (in Fahrenheit). Start with 225, subtract the temp of the air, then the temp of the flour, then 5. The answer obtained is the temperature required of your water.

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She also recommends weighing all of the ingredients before beginning (8g instant yeast, 375 water, 10g salt, 500g all purpose flour). When you do mix your ingredients, ensure that you add the salt last. Apparently, mixing the salt with the yeast right off the bat can inhibit the rising process if it interacts with the yeast. This recipe can be mixed by hand too! I found that mixing with my hands actually helped me better understand what was happening with my dough. When first mixed, it was wet and pretty sticky. As we progressed, things changed.

After mixing the ingredients, the dough needs to rest. Twenty minutes was a sufficient amount of time for me to clean all my small bowls from earlier and throw in a load of laundry. When the twenty minutes passed, I worked to stretch the dough. First, by taking the dough at the 12 o’clock position, lifting it, stretching it, and folding it back to the 6 o’clock point. Working clockwise, I then pulled the 3 to the 9, the 6 to the 12 and the 9 to the 3. After this, the dough becomes a nice tight ball.

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When this happens, toss your dough back into the bowl and cover it with either a tea towel or plastic wrap. If you notice your bread is resting in a chilly spot in your kitchen, you may want to relocate it to a toastier location. This happened to me, and I ended up cradling my bowl in front of the fireplace like a concerned mother. This dough needs to rise. Keep it covered in the bowl for an hour and a half. Set a timer.

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When the time is right, your dough should have grown noticeably larger. It should also be lighter with visible air bubbles. If it isn’t, give it some more time. Every environment is different.

When your dough has risen, place your dough on a floured surface. Now, to shape the bread fold the 12 o’clock position and the six o’clock position to meet in the middle. Seal the seam where they meet. Turn the dough one quarter clockwise and repeat. If the dough isn’t tight, do this twice more. It should now be in a nice square shape.

Now, to proof your bread! Toss your dough, seam-side down, in a basket lined with paper towel (if you don’t have a proofing basket). Let this baby rise for an hour to an hour and a half more. The dough should be airy at the completion of the time. The author describes the dough as marshmallow-like at this point and I think that’s a great descriptor. Again, set a timer…but for an hour. At the one hour mark, pre-heat your oven to 475F. Place an empty Dutch oven in there too and let it preheat.

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When your dough is feeling all marshmallowy, it’s ready to bake. Carefully place your dough in the Dutch oven which has suitably warmed now. Make sure you’ve got it in there seam-side up. Put the lid on the D.O too!

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After 25 minutes, remove the lid. Hopefully, you’ll see a nice pale loaf of bread. Keep it cooking without the lid for another 15-20 or so. If your loaf is browning too quickly, turn down the temp (400F will do).

When the loaf is done, knock on the bottom. It should sound hollow. Let it cool for a half hour before inhaling all of that delicious gluten.

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See it wasn’t that bad. Science-y, yes. Precise, absolutely. Getting in the way of my plans that day, you bet! But…worth it. I have never felt as much satisfaction in cooking as I did with this loaf of bread. Try it. Check out the book; it’s fantastic!

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