The title of the book that is my bread bible is called “Bread In Five Minutes A Day”. This is because you can (in theory) use the goop you’ve stored in your fridge to form a bread loaf in under five minutes. While technically true it’s a lot like calling a reduction in the projected rate of spending a “tax cut”. That shit won’t fly on my blog!
I differ from the basic plan by baking all of the dough in one shot. Why? Because I’ve got a damn day job and can’t sit on my ass baby sitting an oven every day. Harrumph!
Today’s baking day. Go to the kitchen table that was spotless yesterday and use a pitchfork to heave everyone’s crap off of it again. How does clutter grow so fast; it’s like kudzu on crack! Wipe down the table and get out your bucket of dough out of the fridge.
Chilling it overnight (or longer) has made it stiffer and easier to handle. Also the dough (which has never been kneaded has a strange structure that looks like wood cellulose that’s been microwaved on Jupiter. Analogies fail me…just go with it.
You’re going to need some more equipment:
- A flat thing (to put the dough on while not baking).
- A flat scoopy thing (to maneuver the dough into the oven).
- A basting brush.
- Cornmeal (to keep the dough from sticking to the flat thing.)
- A bread knife (for installing expansion joints).
- Poppy seeds (for bragging rights and to screw up drug tests).
- Some flour.
Get a flat surfaced object, like a cookie sheet, pizza peel, or an Barry Manilow LP record and sprinkle cornmeal on it. Cornmeal is cheap, don’t scrimp. The cornmeal isn’t really part of the food, it’s there to keep the dough from sticking. (For those of you who don’t know what an LP or 33 RPM record happens to be, Google “life before iPods took over the universe”; you’ll be fascinated.)
Now put some flour on your hands, this is to keep the dough from sticking to your hands. Plunge one hand into the bowl and come up with a grapefruit sized glob of the dough. It’ll stretch and won’t break free from the mother glob. You’re aiming for ¼ of the total volume in the bucket. Cut it off with the shears.
What happens next is hard to describe. Use your hands (coated with flour) to grab the bottom of the glob and wrap it over the top. You’re trying to make a “smoothish” surfaced bread glob that’s without resorting to a “patting motion” like you’d use when making a snowball. Make it roughly football shaped and don’t try for perfection. I’m not sure of the exact biology here but the gluten is elastic and wants to stretch “around” the loaf you’re forming but it doesn’t like being separated and squished back in. (That’s my understanding…for all I know it’s caused by magic refrigerator Smurfs.) Don’t over think it. You’ll know when you’ve done it right. Allocate 30 seconds or less of screwing around and if you haven’t made the shape you want just give up and go with what you’ve got. You’ve almost certainly made something good enough.
Do the same thing three more times. You should have four loaves. You should have done it in a couple of minutes. They look roughly like flattish dinosaur eggs to me. If they look like that to you…everything’s shiny.
Wash your bread bucket and put it in the strainer. Crack a beer. Repeat.
The loaves will rise slightly. As far as I can tell it’s not a big deal how much they rise. Focus on the beer. You have very little to do for 90 minutes. Enjoy it.
Warning: you do not have enough time to change the oil in the car, reshingle the roof, or split wood. Park your ass and relax. See? Baking is fun!
After 60 minutes start preheating the oven. 450 degrees. Shove the baking stone in there. Check that you’ve got a broiler pan to add water for steam but don’t add water yet.
At 90 minutes it’s show time!
Just before show time you’ve got to do a few minor things. First use a basting brush to coat the outside of each loaf with water. Don’t screw with the underside…just the top.
Then sprinkle poppy seeds on it. The purpose of this is to make it look awesome and taste as good as it looks. You don’t need poppy seeds but if you don’t add them it’s like ripping the supercharger off a racecar’s engine. I’ve tried sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, etc… they’re all sub-optimal. In the end poppy seeds are best and if I leave them out I regret it.
The last task is to cut a few slashes in the top of the bread. I call these expansion joints. They actually serve that purpose…they also make the bread look cool. Do this after the poppy seeds are on for maximum coolness of appearance.
At 90 minutes (give or take…there’s no rush now) it’s oven time. Shove the loaves onto the baking stone one at a time. They’ll expand slightly and might merge into each other. It won’t ruin the bread any more than the same effect when your pancakes run together. At the last minute dump a cup of warm water in the baking pan (to make steam) and quickly close the door.
Do nothing for a half hour. Don’t sweat it…the bread knows what to do. it should smell delicious by now.
At a half hour take the loaves out and put them on a cooling rack (the cooling rack is probably optional). Household members will come out of the woodwork as they smell the bread. It’s easier to cut after a few minutes of cooling.
If your bread tastes like mine you’ll have the first loaf half gone within fifteen minutes. All it’ll need is butter. (Margarine sucks…invest in butter.) Homemade jelly will turn the dial to eleven.