Sunday, November 27, 2011

On Cheating With Food (Bread)

I love me some homemade bread.

Correction: My entire family loves it. There is nothing better, in my opinion, than the smell of fresh bread filling the house. It reminds me of cool fall evenings and comfort, although admittedly I have no real memories of being comforted by bread. But I will make up my own comforting memories involving bread just for that smell. It makes me feel good, and it's enough to insight anybody's appetite to get up and head itself into the kitchen to partake of this fluffy wonder.

But it's also a pain in the ass.

It's a moment of honesty I hate to admit, but it's true. Making fresh bread is a total pain in the ass, and I think that's why there's such a huge market for companies that make frozen loaves that you just let rise, then bake. All the difficult stuff - the mixing, the buying of specific bread flours, the finding of a "perfect" recipe that makes bread exactly how you want it - is done for you. You toss the bread out in a pan, let it rise and thaw, and then bake it. You get the smell, the taste, but really none of the same satisfaction from actually making your own bread.

Yet there are few people I know that genuinely enjoy whipping up a new batch of bread every couple of days. Who would? That's a lot of crap to keep around and measure and I've seen people go to some pretty impressive lengths for good-tasting bread. It's an amount of effort that I admittedly go to maybe once a month, and even then, I still haven't mastered the art of bread making.

I knew there had to be a better way.

Naturally, there IS!

Via The Italian Dish, I present to you: $.40 Artisan bread. (Recipe at link!)

It's an easy, four ingredient recipe that honestly kind of shocked me. This is crap everybody keeps around. It didn't require me to buy bread flour, didn't necessitate hours and hours of rising in different locations and a massive amount of cleanup - in fact, I got to store and keep the remainder of the dough in the container I mixed it in!

Check it:

Yep, that's it. That's my beautiful homemade bread dough (after taking out about half of it for two loaves). It's sticky as crap, and looks kind of like something I wouldn't expect to successfully bake and make into something that looks or tastes good.

But oh my god, it really does.

The thing that continues to shock me is how ultimately simple it is. Sure, you could spruce it up - add in some fruit, or dried veggies, or herbs, and make it into anything. Hell, Hubby used some of the dough yesterday morning to make cinnamon rolls, and it actually worked out pretty well (he said it was crispier than he expected, but I really liked it). But as a quickie bread option, it's easy. Despite having made a first batch yesterday, I tossed in another batch today and found it frighteningly simple. I already have the ingredients and amounts memorized, although I will admit that I'm not using instant yeast - I'm using active dry. With my first batch, I didn't proof it beforehand; today I proofed it first. The loaves I made yesterday still turned out awesome. Thanks to this method, I can make bread every other day if I want to, remaking the dough takes about five minutes, and there are no real limitations on size or ingredients - I'm free to add whatever I please. The downside is that I'm going through flour and yeast like nobody's business.

Now, some of it - like storing the dough in the fridge with the lid either propped open or punctured, and not washing the container before making a new batch of dough - goes against everything I've been taught about food storage. Yes, yes, I know the dough will ferment and add flavor as time goes on. I know that I have to leave the lid propped open or the gasses from the working yeast won't be able to escape and I'll end up with flat bread (speaking of which, Hubby shut the container yesterday and it sat in the fridge all day and all night that way, so we'll see what happens). I know, logically, that all these things mean that as time goes on my bread will continue to become even more amazing time and time again. 

But I was taught that not shutting lids and not washing containers leads to mold, to food taking on the flavors of the fridge! I was taught that these are HUGE no no's, so recalibrating my thinking has been somewhat difficult. But oh man, it is SO worth it. 

(As a note, I have no pictures of the loaves after cooking because - alas - they were pretty much instantly devoured!)

To me, this is totally cheating on making bread. And I am completely okay with that.

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