Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rainy Day Bread

 We had three days of rain and had been out of bread for as long. The forecast was for more rain over the next two days, our solar oven was forlornly sitting in the basement, and I was in full fledged bread withdrawal. If you read my first post, you know I love the bread Rick makes in our Romertopf clay baker in the kitchen oven. You also know I love bread period. What to do? Well, I annoyed him Thursday night until he mixed his dough so we would have some freshly baked bread for lunch yesterday. Unfortunately, I was busy all morning so wasn't able to remind (pinch, poke, prod?) Rick into remembering to actually put the bread in the oven. Minor technicality. I wandered in at noon, looked around, and whined to the best of my ability. To his credit. Rick volunteered to stay home, but he was all dressed and ready to go run 9 miles in the woods, so I told him I'd take care of it. Besides, I figured maybe I ought to make use of a hot oven, so decided to make a focaccia-style bread to go along with our dinner at the same time.

*Rick's bread recipe, hinted at in post #1:
3 2/3 cups unbleached white flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
2 cups water
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

No knead bread cooked in clay pot. photo by Rick
Mix the flours, sea salt, and yeast together in a bowl. Add 1 3/4 cups of the water and the apple cider vinegar. Mix quickly. Add the extra 1/4 cup of water as needed. Do not knead, just make sure it's well mixed. (The dough might be stickier/wetter than you're used to.) Cover and let ferment overnight for 12 – 14 hours. The next day, soak your unglazed clay pot in water. After it has soaked for 10 minutes or so, place the clay pot in a cold oven on a rack in the second lowest position. Turn the oven on to 475º. While the oven is preheating, scoop the bread dough out of the bowl and onto a piece of parchment paper (cut to fit the clay pot) that has been dusted with some wheat flour. Sprinkle more flour on top of the dough along with some wheat germ, if you have it on hand. Cover and let rest until the oven comes to temperature. Carefully take the clay pot out (never put it on metal, but rather on a thick potholder). Plop the dough, parchment paper and all, into the bottom of the clay pot. Cover and place back in the oven. If you're only cooking the one loaf, then leave the bread in at 475º for 40–45 minutes, covered. If you think the bread needs a little more color, you can leave it in for an extra minute or two uncovered. Once done, the hardest part is to leave the bread alone for 45–60 minutes before slicing and eating.

(Note: Since I was also cooking the focaccia, though, I put the bread in at 475º for 20 minutes, then lowered the temperature to 450º while the focaccia baked along with it for the second 20 minutes. Once the focaccia was out I left the bread in for another 6 minutes or so uncovered to brown.)

I was fairly proud of myself for how the bread came out since the last time I had tried to bake a loaf of semolina bread in our smaller Romertopf baker I had forgotten to put it in the cold oven. When the oven came to temperature I went to plop the bread in the clay pot and saw it still soaking in the sink. I handled that in the best way possible: I stomped downstairs and scolded Rick for not reminding me to put the clay pot in the cold oven before turning it on. He just stared at me as if I'd lost my mind (probably have) and said he had no idea what I was talking about. Husbands can be so thick at times! So I stomped back upstairs and, after a moment of muttering, stuck two of my regular old Calphalon metal bread loaf pans in the oven. I let them heat for about 15 minutes then dropped the dough in one loaf pan and carefully placed the other on top. It worked perfectly, even if it was a bit clumsy. So if you don't have a clay baker, improvise. The standard bread loaf pans worked in a pinch. Jim Lahey, of the Sullivan Street Bakery, advises using a Dutch oven (we don't own one, though). The idea is to have a pan that can go in a very hot oven, that can be covered, and that was preheated first.

Next time we have a super sunny day and I think I can get the solar oven up to 350º or even 400º for awhile, I might give this recipe a try outside. My feeling, though, is that whatever bread goes out in the solar oven needs to have a firmer dough and a longer second rise in the loaf pan. You know, the old standard where you let the dough rise the second time in the pan it's being cooked in until it's about an inch above the rim. That's what I did with my first attempt at bread outside (post #1). Rick wants to see what would happen if we used my oops-I-made-a-mistake method mentioned above using two loaf pans. i.e. heat the loaf pans in a hot solar oven for an hour, then drop the bread in one loaf pan and cover with the second and leave in the solar oven until done.

A peak at the crumb. photo by me!
This bread is awesome, but we probably won't make it too often during the summer months. With no AC and loads of hot humid days here on Long Island, turning the oven on isn't very desirable. But on those cold, snowy winter days when you actually want the oven on inside it's heaven. I guess it wasn't too bad for a dreary chilly June day, either, when you despair that summer took a vacation.

*This recipe is Rick's adaptation of Jim Lahey's revolutionary no knead bread. And rather than go into the science of no knead bread dough (I would never be able to explain it as well anyway), please visit's explanation of how and why no knead bread works, the reason for the really hot oven, and the covered pot. 

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