05 Apr Loafing Around
uring this quiet period of extended time at home, so many people are baking fresh bread and sharing their experiences. As I am doing the same I thought it would be fun to write about one of my favorite recipes for a simple and delicious peasant bread.
This peasant bread has a soft, chewy interior and a crunchy exterior and is the perfect accompaniment to soup or salad, great for sandwiches or simply on its own (and, believe me, it’s almost impossible to resist tearing into it the moment it comes out of the oven!).
The preparation is easy and, thanks to the use of instant yeast, the time to make it is significantly reduced.
This is comfort food at its best and worth the effort. Thank you to Ali for sharing this recipe!
Peasant Bread, Simplified
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups lukewarm water (To make foolproof lukewarm water that will not kill the yeast (water that’s too hot can kill yeast), boil some water —I use my teapot. Then, mix 1½ cups cold water with ½ cup boiling water. This ratio of hot to cold water will be the perfect temperature for the yeast.)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
About 2 tablespoons room temperature butter
Special Equipment: You will need two 1-qt oven-safe glass bowls.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar, and instant yeast. Add the water. Mix until the flour is absorbed. Cover bowl with a tea towel or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm spot to rise for at least an hour. This is how to create a slightly warm spot for your bread to rise in: Turn the oven on at any temperature (350ºF or so) for one minute, then turn it off. Note: Do not allow the oven to get up to 300ºF, for example, and then heat at that setting for 1 minute —this will be too hot. Just let the oven preheat for a total of 1 minute —it likely won’t get above 100ºF. The goal is to just create a slightly warm environment for the bread.
Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Grease two oven-safe bowls (such as the 1-qt Pyrex bowls mentioned above) with about a tablespoon of butter each. Using two forks, punch down your dough, scraping it from the sides of the bowl, which it will be clinging to. As you scrape it down try to turn the dough up onto itself. You want to loosen the dough entirely from the sides of the bowl, and you want to make sure you’ve punched it down. Then, take your two forks and divide the dough into two equal portions —eye the center of the mass of dough, and starting from the center and working out, pull the dough apart with the two forks. Then scoop up each half and place into your prepared bowls. This part can be a little messy —the dough is very wet and will slip all over the place. Using small forks or forks with short tines makes this easier—small salad forks work best. It’s best to scoop it up fast and plop it in the bowl in one fell swoop. Let the dough rise for about 20 to 30 minutes on the countertop near the oven (or near a warm spot) or until it has risen to just below or above (depending on what size bowl you are using) the top of the bowls. (Note: Do not do the warm-oven trick for the second rise, and do not cover your bowls for the second rise. Simply set your bowls on top of your oven, so that they are in a warm spot. Twenty minutes in this spot usually is enough.)
Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375º and bake for 15 to 17 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and turn the loaves onto cooling racks. If you’ve greased the bowls well, the loaves should fall right out onto the cooling racks. If the loaves look a little pale and soft when you’ve turned them out onto your cooling racks, place the loaves into the oven (outside of their bowls) and let them bake for about 5 minutes longer. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before cutting.