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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Food For Thought – 2/27/03

There’s something incredibly gratifying about baking your own bread. The process of turning flour, water and yeast into dough, then into a steaming golden loaf is impressive no matter what your culinary experience. I spent many months learning the different methods used in various artisan bakeries and this week’s recipe is one of the breads I developed based on my acquired knowledge. This bread always goes over extremely well and the sounds of compliments mumbled through the full mouths of my guests are almost as satisfying as the baking process itself.

About the ingredients:

For bread baking, always use unbleached bread flour or unbleached high gluten flour. The kneading process is what develops the gluten in the dough, trapping gas when the dough rises and making those essential air pockets that are the hallmark of good bread. You cannot overknead your dough, so if you are in doubt as to whether the dough has been worked enough, use more time rather than less. The tray of ice cubes placed in the oven create steam that keeps a crust from developing on the bread before the bread has risen to its full capacity in the oven. If you have a kitchen thermometer, the bread should read at least 180° in the center. Less than that means your dough is not fully cooked.

The dough will need to have the right moisture content. Slightly wet is better than too dry as dry dough will have trouble rising. The Italians talk about handling risen bread dough “like a new born baby.” If you collapse this dough after the rise you will end up with a dense loaf. If you do end up collapsing the dough, knead it for 1 minute and return it to the bowl to rise for another hour. When baking, if your oven does not reach 500°, set it at the highest possible temperature.

Golden Potato Onion Bread

1 Egg, slightly beaten2 Tbsp. Olive Oil2 Medium Potatoes, peeled1 Medium Onion, finely chopped3 Cloves Garlic, finely chopped1 tsp. Active Dry Yeast2 tsp. Kosher Salt3 C. Unbleached White Bread Flour1 C. Water, at room temperatureCornmeal, for dusting

Cut the potatoes into 1/4 inch cubes and boil, uncovered, until tender. Drain and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a heavy non-stick or cast iron pan over medium-low heat. Saute the onions and garlic, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and translucent-about 5 minutes. Add the onions and garlic to the potatoes and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, yeast and salt and mix thoroughly. Add the potatoes, onions and garlic to the flour and mix. Add the water and work into the flour until you have a lumpy dough. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead the dough into a smooth ball. Your dough should be tacky to the touch, but not wet. Add a small amount of water if your dough is too dry, or some flour if it is too wet. Firmly knead the dough for about 20 minutes. Your dough should be very elastic and smooth. Transfer the dough to a large, well-oiled bowl and turn the dough over to coat with oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave the dough in a draft-free area to rise. Let the dough rise until fully doubled in size, from 1.5 – 3 hours, depending on the temperature of the room. Dust a large cookie sheet with cornmeal and turn the dough out onto the cookie sheet, being careful to maintain the shape of the loaf and not collapsing the dough at all. Place a large metal pan full of ice cubes on the bottom of your oven and move a rack to the lower third of the oven. Heat the oven at 500° for 20-25 minutes and place the loaf on the rack to bake. Leave the door closed for at least 15 minutes before you check the bread. Bake until the crust is medium brown. Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing.