Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dutch Oven Bread

This is not so much a recipe as it is a bit of inspiration, some pointers, and a whole bunch of encouragement to experiment.  Experiment!  I was out to lunch with a friend the other day and the topic of bread and baking came up.  She started talking about this bread and when I asked her for a recipe, she said that she didn't have one, but could try to come up with measurements the next time around.  Bah!  I said.  Recipe schmecipe.  The key, we agreed, is to just go for it and not be afraid.  A sound philosophy for both bread baking and life.

To make this bread you will need: 
  • A dutch oven
  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Yeast
  • Optional fun add in's such as nuts, seeds, and fresh herbs
  • A bit of semolina or brown rice flower to prevent the dough from sticking to the dutch oven

Part of what I like about this bread is that it utilizes both yeast and fermentation to give it flavor and rise.      The yeast gives it a boost and ensures that you'll get some rise, while letting it sit over night allows the dough to ferment slightly and awaken some of the wild yeasts in the air, on your hands, and in the flour.  It's not as boring as regular yeasted bread, and it doesn't take as much foresight and training as a naturally leavened bread.  It's a win win.  

The night before you want to bake the bread, mix together all of the ingredients.  In the photo above you can see the rough amounts that I used.   Use more or less depending on the size of loaf you want.  I used about half whole wheat flour, half unbleached white flour, a teaspoon each of salt and yeast, and enough water to make it into a thick batter.  I also sprinkled in a smattering of sesame, sunflower, poppy and fennel seeds.  Then I covered it with a towel and set it aside for the night.

Here it is after about 5 hours:

In the morning, when it was time to bake, it was clear that the dough was too wet to hold up, so I worked in an extra cup or so of flour.  I used my hands, and did it all inside the bowl, never taking it out to knead it.  Working with it in the bowl minimizes mess, and also allowed me to keep it somewhat wet. 

When I was satisfied with the consistency, I worked it into a ball, bringing the corners together, and placing the seam side down.  Once again, I covered it with a towel and set it aside to double in size.

Now it's time to heat the oven to 400 degrees and preheat the dutch oven inside the oven for at least 20 minutes.  Be careful! That sucker gets hot and it'll burn - as in light on fire - your oven mitts.  That, and it's super heavy so it'll heat through a thin mitt and burn YOUR mitts (your hands).  Use something thick!  And move quickly and mindfully.

When the oven is hot and the dough has risen, pull out the oven, take off the top, sprinkle in some semolina flour to prevent stickage, and dump in your dough.  As you can see below, it doesn't need to be perfect.  

Now this is key:  BAKE WITH THE LID ON FOR 10 MINUTES.  Baking it with the lid allows the loaf to steam itself and will contribute to a nice crispy crust.  Then remove the lid, reduce the heat to 350, and continue baking for 30 to 40 minutes.  

Here's my loaf after 10 minutes:

Here's Munji hanging out in the living room while the break baked:

And here is the finished loaf!  You know it's done when you tap on the bottom and it sounds hollow.  Enjoy it with friends, family, neighbors, or that jerk face in your life who you're killing with kindness as a spiritual practice.  Most importantly, take a moment to enjoy it with yourself, and pat yourself on the back for trying something new, or revisiting something sacred.   


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