Sigh. It is officially fall.
Every day (almost), I get up and go to work and brew coffee/slice tomatoes/make garlic bread/say to customers, “Have a nice day; please take your number; would you like your receipt?”, and then I leave work and am often tired and slightly cranky, and I see the school bus-yellow, fire hydrant-red and pumpkin-orange leaves holding on for dear life to their brittle branches, shaking fiercely in the icy wind and I am suddenly warm and cozy inside, the way I feel just after imbibing a nice, hot cup of spiced apple cider from my favorite red Target mug.
Yes, I know it’s been fall for a while, but I’d been too busy to notice (yes, I am guilty of ignorance) until one day, all of a sudden, I (gasp!) noticed it all around me. It was almost too late — some of the trees were already bare, sloughing off the weight of dying leaves and strengthening their naked bones for what I hear will be a harsh winter. But I did notice, and though I tend to shy away from cool weather (or anything but summer), it currently reminds me of holidays and snowflakes and pumpkin pie, and I am immediately swooned.
This recipe, however, is in no such spirit. Don’t get me wrong, this bread is divine, but it was, thus far, the most difficult recipe to prepare. Don’t let the outward appearances of simplicity fool you — this is a tricky little bread, disguised by fancy terms like “artisan” and “deli-style.” It is my moral duty to forewarn you that, for any amateur baker like me, it is not the easiest of loaves to create.
The inclusion of ingredients was nothing too shocking, but the actual preparation of the loaves (this recipe makes four 1-pound loaves) — the sticky, shapeless loaves — was a tad stressful. It was a tiresome battle pulling grapefruit-sized handfuls from the main dough, pulling apart the gluey strands and rolling the balls into ovals, all the while yanking the tack from my hands while trying to maintain the oval shape for its cornmeal-covered destination. This resulted in four balls of all different shapes and sizes — anything but “grapefruit-sized” and “oval.”
There was also the steaming technique in the oven, which is something I’ve never had to do before but had heard was beneficial to preventing the drying-out of baking bread. Under usual circumstances, placing a cup of hot water in a pan in the oven is no big deal. Add in the need to transfer sticky loaves from a surface covered in pebbles of cornmeal to a piping-hot baking stone, however (especially when you don’t have a fancy-schmancy pizza peel like they want you to have in the recipe. Pshaw), and you have a MESS.
The bread only took about 20 minutes per two loaves to bake, but they all finished in different shapes and sizes. But don’t judge a book by its cover — the smell of baked caraway seeds and the taste of fresh rye was enough to make it worth the effort. Though I may not exhaust my effort on this one again.
Debrief: Obviously, as noted above, this was one tough cookie — er, bread — of a recipe. But again, I know not much about baking bread, so for others this may be a walk in the park, and I am glad I experienced the art of artisan bread baking and do not plan to avoid it in the future. Next time, I may bake this bread in loaf tins to give the rye a more useful shape, and to avoid the whole pizza peel thing.
courtesy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
Makes four 1-pound loaves. The recipe is easily doubled or halved.
3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (1 1/2 packets)
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 1/2 tablespoons caraway seeds, plus more for sprinkling on the top
1 cup rye flour
5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Cornmeal for pizza peel (or, as I used, cutting board)
Cornstarch wash (Blend 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch with a small amount of water to form a paste; add 1/2 cup water and whisk with a fork; microwave mixture until it appears glassy, about 30 to 60 seconds on high)
1. Mixing and storing the dough: Mix the yeast, salt, and caraway seeds with the water in a 5-quart bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container.
2. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup capacity food processor (with dough attachment), or a heavy-duty stand mixer (with dough hook) (what I used). If you’re not using a machine, you may need to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.
3. Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top), approximately 2 hours.
4. The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 14 days.
5. On baking day, dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-sized) piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Elongate the ball into an oval-shaped loaf. Allow to rest and rise on a cornmeal-covered pizza peel for 40 minutes.
6. Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, with a baking stone placed on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray on any other shelf that won’t interfere with the rising bread.
7. Using a pastry brush, paint the top crust with cornstarch wash and then sprinkle with additional caraway seeds. Slash with deep parallel cuts across the loaf, using a serrated bread knife.
8. Slide the loaf directly onto the hot stone. Pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray, and quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until deeply browned and firm. Smaller or larger loaves will require adjustments in baking time.
9. Allow to cool before slicing or eating.
Extra punches: For caraway seed-lovers, an alternative: Caraway Swirl Rye. Follow above recipe as stated, but add 2 tablespoons of caraway seeds. When rolling the grapefruit-sized dough into a ball, use your hands and a rolling pin to flatten the ball into a 1/2-inch-thick oval (avoid using extra flour here or it might remain as a dry deposit in the caraway swirl). Sprinkle the dough with caraway seeds. The amount can vary with your taste; save some for the top crust. Then roll up the dough from the short end like a jelly roll, forming a cylindrical loaf. Pinch the ends closed. Continue following above recipe as stated.