Whole-Grain Artisan Loaf

Sometimes, the best way to spend a weekend is by doing absolutely nothing. Okay, so maybe we did go to the Diamondbacks and Giants game but the other two days were pleasantly lazy – especially Sunday. One of my favorite and most relaxing things to do is to make bread. There really is nothing better than that fresh bread smell blanketing every room and that first bite into crusty goodness J.

One of my new favorite snacks is a slice of homemade wheat bread, toasted with a dollop of ricotta and a smear of agave nectar/apple butter. YUM.

Other than running errands and pretending to watch football with the boy, this is what my Sunday amounted to.  Recipe below:

Whole-Grain Artisan Loaf:

The Ingredients:

  • 5 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (2 packets) granulated yeast
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt (or to taste)
  • 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 4 cups lukewarm water

The Method:

1. Use dry-ingredient measuring cups (avoid 2 cup measures, which compress the flour) to gently scoop up flour, then sweep the top level with a knife or spatula. Whisk together the flours, yeast, salt and vital wheat gluten in a 5-quart bowl, or, preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container or food-grade bucket. Lidded (or even vented) plastic buckets designed for dough storage are readily available.

2. Heat the water to slightly warmer than body temperature (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit). Add to the dry ingredients and mix without kneading, using a spoon, food processor (with dough attachment), or heavy-duty stand mixer (with paddle). You may need to get your hands wet to get the flour to incorporate if you’re not using a machine. Don’t knead! It isn’t necessary.

You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. This step is done in a matter of minutes, and yields a wet dough that remains loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.

3. Cover with a lid (not airtight) or cover loosely with plastic wrap. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flatten on top), which will take about 2 hours. Longer rising times — even overnight — will not change the result. Fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and is easier to work with than dough at room temperature. So, the first time you try our method, it’s best to refrigerate the dough overnight (or at least 3 hours) before shaping a loaf.

After it’s been refrigerated, the dough will seem to have shrunk back upon itself. It will never rise again in the bucket, which is normal for our dough. Whatever you do, do not punch down this dough! With our method, you’re trying to retain as much gas in the dough as possible, and punching it down knocks gas out and will make your loaves denser.

On Baking Day

4. First, prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal (or lining it with parchment paper or a silicone mat) to prevent your loaf from sticking to it when you slide it into the oven. Dust the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough, using a serrated knife or kitchen shears. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating a quarter-turn as you go to form a ball. Most of the dusting flour will fall off; it’s not intended to be incorporated into the dough. The bottom of the ball may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out during resting and baking. The correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no more than 20 to 40 seconds. If you work the dough longer than this, it may make your loaf too dense.

5. Stretch the ball gently to elongate it, and taper the ends by rolling them between your palms and pinching them.

6. Allow the loaf to rest — covered loosely with plastic wrap — on the pizza peel for 90 minutes (40 minutes if you’re using fresh, unrefrigerated dough).

Alternatively, you can allow the loaf to rest on a silicone mat or greased cookie sheet. Depending on the age of the dough, you may not see much rise during this period. More rising will occur during baking.

7. Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, with a baking stone placed on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other rack that won’t interfere with the rising bread.

8. Just before baking, use a pastry brush to paint the top of the loaf with a little water. Sprinkle with the seed and nut mixture. Slash the loaf with quarter-inch-deep parallel cuts across the top, using a serrated bread knife.

9. After a 30-minute preheat, you’re ready to bake. With a quick forward jerking motion of the wrist, slide the loaf off the pizza peel and onto the preheated baking stone. If you used parchment paper instead of cornmeal, it will slide onto the stone with the loaf. If you used a silicone mat or cookie sheet, just place it on the stone. Quickly but carefully pour about a cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the door to trap the steam. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is richly browned and firm to the touch (smaller or larger loaves will require adjustments in resting and baking time).

If you used parchment paper, a silicone mat, or a cookie sheet under the loaf, carefully remove it and bake the loaf directly on the stone or an oven rack when the loaf is about two-thirds of the way through baking.When you remove the loaf from the oven, it may audibly crackle, or “sing,” when initially exposed to room-temperature air. Allow the bread to cool completely, preferably on a wire cooling rack. The perfect crust may initially soften, but will firm up again when cooled.

10. Store the remaining dough in your container in the refrigerator and use it over the next couple of weeks. You’ll find that even one day’s storage im¬proves the flavor and texture of your bread. The dough ferments and takes on sourdough characteristics. When your bucket is empty, don’t wash it! Mix another batch in the same container. The aged dough stuck to the sides will give you a head start on sourdough flavor. To take it even further, incorporate up to 2 cups of your old dough.

 

Homemade Slow Cooker Spicy Marinara and Artisan Bread

One of my favorite things to come home to is a delicious supper that has been in the slow cooker all day. I decided to make Slow Cooker Spicy Marinara so I didn’t really go all out on this one, but I must say, it was one of the best marinara sauces I’ve had in a while (sorry Auntie)!  I did my own little take on this recipe from Life Currents blog, but added some crushed red pepper and a nice glug of red wine because, well…  um do you know me? I’m a firm believer in red wine really bringing out the vibrancy in a tomato sauce – and I think slow cooking the sauce for over 8 hours really allowed the flavors to develop beautifully. I’ve made a lot of pasta sauces for Nick, but I think this one was his favorite. I made a whole ton of this stuff because you can freeze it and it keeps FOREVER.

I also thought about grabbing an Italian loaf to make some homemade garlic bread – but it isn’t really totally homemade unless you make the bread too, right? It dawned on me that I had just added a 5-minute Artisan bread recipe to my Pepperplate account so I decided to try it out. I failed to get a picture of the bread itself, but in the picture below, you can see the final product – Herb and Cheese Garlic Bread (obviously not vegan, but can easily be made vegan with shredded Daiya cheese). I made a VERY small loaf so I only let it rise about an hour before tossing it in the oven and still came out delicious and golden-brown in color. I made a ton of more dough, so expect to see a picture of one these beauties in the near future.

I put together this little Italian dish for the two of us:

 

Slow Cooker Spicy Marinara

Ingredients:

Makes 13 (½ cup) servings

  • 8 cups crushed tomatoes or 2 (28 oz.) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • ½ tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • dash of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt, if desired
  • freshly ground pepper

The Method:

  1. Place all ingredients in the slow cooker. Stir well to combine. Secure the lid on your slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 6 hours. Stir the sauce and remove the bay leaves. Taste for seasonings, adding more salt and some freshly ground pepper as desired.

5 Minute Artisan Bread

Makes (4) 1lb. loaves

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt or 1 1/2 tablespoons other coarse salt
  • 6 1/2 cups flour, unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose (not strong)

The Method:

Preparing Dough for Storage:

  1. Warm the water slightly. It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature. Warm water will rise the dough to the right point for storage in about 2 hours. With cold water it will need 3-4 hours.
  2. Add the yeast to the water in a 5 quart bowl or, preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container or food-grade bucket. Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve.
  3. Mix in the flour and salt – kneading is unnecessary. Add all of the flour at once, measuring it in with dry-ingredient measuring cups, by gently scooping up the flour, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula. Don’t press down into the flour as you scoop or you’ll throw off the measurement. Mix with a wooden spoon, a high-capacity food processor (14 cups or larger) fitted with the dough attachment, or a heavy duty stand mixer fitted with the dough hook until the mixture is uniform. If you’re hand mixing and it becomes too difficult to incorporate all the flour with the spoon, you can reach into your mixing vessel with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don’t knead, it isn’t necessary. You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. It takes a few minutes, and will yield a dough that is wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.
  4. Allow to rise. Cover with lid (not airtight or it could explode the lid off). Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approx 2 hours, depending on room temperature, and initial water temperature Longer rising times, up to 5 hours, won’t harm the result.
  5. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period. Fully refrigerated dough is less sticky and easier to work with than dough at room temperature.

Ready to bake? Follow the instructions below:

  1. Prepare your loaf tin, tray, or whatever you’re baking it in/on. Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with four. Pull up and cut of a grapefruit-size piece of dough (c 1 lb), using a serrated knife.
  2. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all 4 sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Most of the dusting flour will fall off – that’s fine, it isn’t meant to be incorporated. The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will sort itself out during resting and baking.
  3. The correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no more than 30 – 60 seconds.
  4. Rest the loaf and let it rise in the form, on the tray/pizza peel, for about 40 minutes Depending on the age of the dough, you may not see much rise during this period. That’s fine, more rising will occur during baking.
  5. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450°F Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf that won’t interfere with the rising bread.
  6. Dust and Slash. Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour, which will allow the slashing knife to pass without sticking. Slash a quarter inch deep cross, diagonal lines, or tic-tac-toe pattern on top using a serrated knife.
  7. After a 20 min preheat you’re ready to bake, even though the oven thermometer won’t be at full temperature yet. Put your loaf in the oven. Pour about 1 cup of hot water (from the tap) into the broiler tray and close the oven to trap the steam.
  8. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch.
  9. Store the rest of the dough in the fridge in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next 14 days. The flavour and texture improves, becoming like sourdough. Even 24 hours of storage improves the flavour.