I grew up outside Philadelphia in a heavily Italian area. Our local supermarket had amazing Italian bread for something like $1.99 a loaf. (It was later bought by Safeway and then Weis, and its bread reverted to typical mediocre supermarket bread.) So when I moved down here for college, it was kind of a shock to me that good bread is actually pretty hard to find. One of my best friends and I would go to Bertucci’s frequently (it was on campus and took our debit dollars), get something cheap for dinner, fill up on rolls, and very nicely ask our server to pack us up some rolls to take with us, that we’d have for breakfast the next morning with butter or some sort of spreadable cheese (no, it wasn’t good spreadable cheese – we were undergrads! but I’m from Philly, so I love fake cheese).
A little later, I started getting exposure to artisan bakeries like…Panera. Don’t judge me, they probably sell a decent loaf of bread. But I’d never know because I refused to pay $5 for a loaf of bread. Cheapness runs in my family.
Then, the NYT no-knead bread recipe came out. A roommate tried it, said it was pretty easy. I thought, I should do that sometime. Last year, a good friend mentioned that he bakes bread. For real. And that even though I’m afraid of anything having to do with yeast after a number of traumatic pizza dough experiments in my youth, I could totally bake bread, too! I immediately ordered him to teach me. Well, we didn’t get to it, so for Christmas, he gave me a book called Brother Juniper’s Bread Book (by Peter Reinhart). I did some browsing, and this week, during my very first day off during day shifts, I tried some basic French bread. And it worked! Sure, I have some quibbles – it’s a little dense, could use a little more flavor (salt), but in general it’s the best bread I’ve had outside a French or Italian restaurant in years. A note here: I’m notoriously lax about measuring, so since I really wanted this to work I converted the volume measurements of flour to weight so I could just use my scale and make sure I got it right.
Let’s rewind for a minute. A year or so ago, I read a blog post somewhere that you can make butter yourself in a stand mixer, and immediately resolved that whenever I have a wedding registry or give up and buy one for myself, the first thing my future Kitchenaid will do is make me some butter. Then last week, a friend told me I could make butter in a food processor. I have one of those!
So yesterday I had a pint of heavy cream in the fridge that I had bought for a recipe that hadn’t actually required cream, and I decided that fresh bread really deserved some fresh butter. Since I own an abundance of flaky sea salt, I decided not to salt the butter, which meant that I really just dumped the pint into the food processor and let it run for about five minutes, then squeezed the butter in some paper towels to get the buttermilk out. (Don’t worry, I saved it! But I’m not sure I’ll have time to use it over the next couple of weeks 😦 )
This morning I had a glorious breakfast of fresh bread, creamy fresh butter, flaky sea salt, and shaved radishes, and it would be difficult for me to be happier.
So let’s get to recipes and pictures, yes?!
Put 1tsp active dry yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. If it bubbles, you’re good to go (this is called proofing).
Add 9.9oz all purpose flour, 10.1oz bread flour, 2 tsp salt, and 1 5/8 cup water to the bowl. Mix it up!
Turn it onto a floured counter and start kneading (keep flour handy! it will get sticky). Knead about 10 minutes, until it’s elastic and only tacky, not sticky. When I started, I was like “wow, kneading isn’t that bad! this is kind of fun!” and by the end I had decided that my next loaf will be the NYT no-knead. But honestly, it wasn’t that bad.
Put it into the cleaned bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rise for 90 minutes.
(the drama: Will it rise?! Believe it or not, it did!)
Punch it down, then roll it back into a ball and put back in the bowl and cover it back up; let it rise for another 90 minutes (I went shopping).
Punch it down again and form into whatever shape you want. I went with a loaf because I don’t have fancy baguette pans and I find that a round can yield somewhat unwieldy slices of bread. If you’re going loaf, use a rolling pin (or wine bottle, if you’re me) to roll it out into a rectangle. Fold it in thirds. Keep the seam on the bottom and roll it out again. Fold it into thirds again, and pinch the seam with your fingers so your bread doesn’t expand outward too much in the oven. Put it on a baking pan covered in parchment, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise for another hour.
Preheat the oven to 450F. Make some slashes in the top with a serrated knife to let some steam out (or something). Get a spray bottle of water ready – water is what will make it crusty! I didn’t have a spray bottle that wasn’t full of some kind of toxic chemical (hair products, shower cleaner, etc), so I used my largest pastry brush and a bowl of water. Brush or mist the bread with water. Put it in the oven. Every two minutes for the next eight or so, give the loaf another dose of water. Then let it go for a bit. Here’s where the directions get a little muddled. How long you’re going to bake it depends on the size of your loaf, logically. So with the whole ball of dough in one loaf, I left it another 15 minutes. Dose it with water one more time. Turn the oven off but leave the bread in there to cook for 10 minutes. Take it out and let it cool for 20-40, then dig in!
A clerk at my parents’ local Italian deli gave me a great tip for storing bread while keeping it crusty – for the first 36 hours or so, just put it cut side down on the counter. No need to wrap it up (seriously – this morning my bread was just as good as it was last night!). Once you have an idea how much you can realistically eat before it gets stale, put the rest in the freezer as early as possible. And if any does go stale or you don’t want to freeze it, rip it up, put it in the food processor, and make breadcrumbs (which I’m pretty sure you can freeze).
Put some heavy cream into your food processor. Turn it on.
This is a little disconcerting to do – I had a food processor leak once and it was pretty traumatic. Don’t worry, it didn’t happen this time!
Halfway between whipped and clotted cream. Trust me, I’ll be remembering this for my next tea party!