Friday, May 8, 2009

A Fast and Tasty Yeast Bread

When I crave a slice of warm, just-baked bread RIGHT NOW I have to head to the local bakery. Columbia City is the best in my neighborhood and never fails to please with so many good offerings it’s difficult to choose just one.

I love to bake bread and we certainly love to eat it, but scheduling is an issue for this cook. French baguettes and Sourdough bread tie for top taste honors, but the required risings don’t make either one a spur-of-the-moment champ for speed. No Knead bread is another favorite but it requires 24-hour planning. And don’t even talk to me about yeastless quick breads - not the same thing at all.

While clicking through various foodie websites and blogs I found a possible solution (maybe on the King Arthur Flour site or SeriousEats or…)

Briefly, you add microwave-heated liquids to the dry ingredients, knead for 1 minute, follow with a 40+ minute rise in the loaf pan and a 20-minute bake. It’s a forgiving recipe too; I wandered away and let it rise higher than the suggested top-of-the-pan height and it didn’t matter. The hardest part was the wait for the loaf to cool before slicing and smiling.

Baking aboard required a one-time small but messy adjustment. The noted 1-minute “beat at high speed” must refer to a heavy-duty stand mixer with bread hook, ‘cuz my portable hand mixer just got slower and slower and the dough rose up in a sticky mass threatening to engulf both blades and body. OK, regroup and grab the dough scraper to knead a bit by hand… and deal with that messy little mixer later.

Friend Tanya and I did the first taste tests, trying one slice straight from the loaf and the next slice warmed briefly in the microwave. Two thumbs up, either way, with butter and jam or just butter. In no way does this loaf resemble my first long ago attempt at bread in a pan that produced a heavy, dense loaf suitable for doorstop use. Toasted on day 2 the Capt gave his approval, though I think he would enjoy any bread as long as it was heavily layered with friend Jean’s kiwi jam. Day 3 and surprise! there’s a partial loaf left and it still tastes good as morning toast or as a base for crab melt sandwiches at lunch.

Now to tweak this recipe, just a bit, to make it mine. After trying this tasty loaf I plan to cook/bake my way through other recipes on the same site.

1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 cup milk
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
cornmeal, to sprinkle in pan

Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and instant yeast in a large mixing bowl.
Combine the milk, water, and oil in a separate, microwave-safe bowl, and heat to between 120°F and 130°F.

Pour the hot liquid over the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl.
Beat at high speed for 1 minute (using heavier mixer with bread hook, or by hand with a dough scraper for 5 minutes or more). The dough will be very soft.

Lightly grease an 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan, and sprinkle the bottom and sides with cornmeal.
Scoop the soft dough into the pan, leveling it in the pan as much as possible. Cover the pan  and let the dough rise till it's just barely crowned over the rim of the pan. When you look at the rim of the pan from eye level, you should see the dough, but it shouldn't be more than, say, 1/4" over the rim. This will take about 45 minutes to 1 hour, if you heated the liquid to the correct temperature and your kitchen isn't very cold. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 400°F.

Remove the cover, and bake the bread for 20 to 22 minutes 30 to 35 minutes, or until it is golden brown and its interior temperature is 190°F. Remove the bread from the oven, and after 5 minutes turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool. Let the bread cool completely before slicing.

NOTES: The next time I make this I will replace some of the all purpose flour with white whole wheat flour.
(The loaf dries and hardens after a few days but it still makes good croutons or breadcrumbs.)

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