DIY Kitchen: Homemade bread

City Paper

Anyone who knows me knows I hate baking. I love baked goods, obviously, but I can’t deal with the amount of precision that most baking requires. I know it’s all about the science of the desired chemical reactions, which should be a cool thing to engage in. Instead it’s just kind of a drag because I generally don’t like using recipes (let alone measuring cups/spoons), and the control freak in me really hates that once it’s in the oven, it’s basically game over and there’s little you can do to fix or enhance the dish. Moreover, when dealing with yeast, you’re talking about keeping things alive (which I really suck at) and extended periods of inactivity on the part of the cook, which requires waiting, and also time management (both of which I also really suck at).

Thus, when so-called “no-knead bread” really started to become a thing on the tubes (maybe three or four years ago) I was all over that shit, but I quickly realized that “no-knead” doesn’t translate to easier or faster, since the actual kneading only takes a couple minutes. I mean, am I alone in instantly reading “no-knead” as “quick and easy”? If so, my bad. Turns out, nearly all of these types of recipes still require two rises, which in practical terms means lots of time. Some of them call for a total wait time of 12 fucking hours! Who the hell has time for that?

Anyway, in a truly monumental (even for me) bout of laziness last week, I decided it was too much of a pain in the ass to travel 0.4 miles (seven minutes walking according to Google Maps, by the way) to buy a loaf of bread to go with some minestrone I was making. And because I ended up finding some yeast packets way in the back of the cupboard (estimated age: five years), I decided to devise the absolute easiest and fastest home-baked bread possible. After cherry-picking from a few of the most streamlined ones, I managed to whittle the entire process, from measuring the flour to taking the bread out of the oven, down to 1 hour and 25 minutes. The end product, while perhaps not the exquisite interplay of crunch, give, and chew that typifies truly great breads, was for sure a damn good loaf with beautifully browned and crisp crust (pro tip: added humidity makes for a good crust, see recipe), good aroma and flavor, and toothsome crumb. A legit homemade bread. Incidentally, total research time was equivalent to approximately 17 round trips to the grocery store.

Worth it.

Homemade Bread

INGREDIENTS

2 cups bread flour* plus extra for dusting

1.5 cups hot water

1 tablespoon honey (if you don’t have honey you can substitute 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar)

1 teaspoon salt

1 packet instant dry yeast

1 cast iron or all-metal pan with a bit of water

* Bread flour will give you the most density and chew, while all purpose will be less dense and have a less-brown crust, and self-rising will be the most airy with a less-brown crust.

DIRECTIONS

Completely dissolve honey in water.

In a large bowl combine flour and yeast (a whisk works best), then make a well in the center.

When honey water is slightly warmer than lukewarm, pour into the well and use a fork to mix with flour, adding the salt in the process.

Combine until a sticky dough is formed, then dust the top with flour, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to stand in a warm spot for 1 hour.

Five minutes before the dough is ready, heat oven to 425 F.

One minute prior to baking, place the pan of water on the lowest rack in your oven.

Turn dough out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or Silpat. Cut it into two halves and shape the halves into loaves, handling dough gently at all times, keeping floured surface facing up.

Place in oven and bake for 25 minutes.

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