When I look at this loaf, I think of the word “peasant.” Like, a peasant bread. Like something you’d see coming out of the hearth in the background of “A Christmas Carol,” while poor Tiny Tim tries to cut the single pea on his plate in half. (Probably one of the more devastating scenes I’ve ever watched in a Disney flick — that, and when Nemo’s mom dies within the first five minutes of the movie. C’mon, Walt!).
So it’s no surprise that this peasant loaf was coming out of our oven just a few days ago.
No, I’m not saying we’re poor — gosh, no. There are so many people in the world with a fraction of our wealth. Still, we are in the early stages in our marriage, and as many young couples can empathize (and single, 20-something professionals — I’m leaving no one out of this), these are financially trying days. While we’re trying to move up from the college staples of Ramen noodles and frozen pizza and to more sophisticated daily menus, sometimes, it’s just too dang expensive, and you find that jar of peanut butter is the only source of sustenance for days (OK, it’s really not that bad, but you get the idea).
All this to say that, when I decided to make this loaf, simple as it may be, I knew it had to be put to good use. I mean, we can’t just go wasting bread around here! Not that we do, of course… goodness, what kind of bread baker throws out uneaten bread? Not this one, I’ll tell you that… yeah.
Luckily, we happened to need a country loaf (peasant, country, artisan; tomato, to-mah-to) for one of our favorite dinners we were making that night — Espinacas con Garbanzos (OMG if you haven’t made this yet, do it right now. You know if I react with “OMG,” it’s got to be delicious). With a crusty crust and a soft, dense center, the French boule is the perfect conduit for any tapenade, chutney or other chunky topping. Like bruschetta, for instance. Or said recipe, above. This bread worked perfectly as a slab for our dinner of tomato-y garbanzo beans, sauteed spinach and garlic.
And so, thanks to the fresh food cooking on the stove and a fresh “peasant” bread in the oven, we had ourselves a meal and good conversation — and that’s all we really need. (I so want to say here, “God bless us, every one!” But I won’t, to curb the risk of cheesiness, of course.)
Debrief: Pretty straightforward here. Just be careful with the measurements if you plan to make only one, two or three loaves. That is all.
Boule (Artisan Free-Form Loaf)
Courtesy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
Makes four 1-pound loaves. The recipe can easily be doubled or halved (or quartered, as I did)
3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tbsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 tbsp coarse salt
6 1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour
In the bowl of a stand mixer, pour lukewarm water (should be about 100 degrees F) and add yeast and salt to the water. Add all of the flour at once and mix with the dough hook (kneading is unnecessary — just mix until ingredients are incorporated).
Once the dough is moist and consistent, pour dough into a clean, greased large bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
After dough has risen, sprinkle the surface of the dough with a dusting of flour and divide dough into four, 1-pound pieces. With lightly-floured hands, gently stretch the surface of each dough piece around the bottom of all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Shape until a smooth and cohesive ball and place on a lined baking sheet or baking stone. Allow each dough ball to rest about 40 minutes.
Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf that doesn’t interfere with the bread.
Dust the tops of each loaf with flour and slash several 1/4-inch deep cuts for a “scallop” look (as I did). You can also make a tic-tac-toe pattern or a giant plus sign across the top of the bread.
After a twenty-minute preheat, you can put the loaves in the oven, even if it isn’t up to full temperature. Quickly and carefully pour 1 cup of hot water in the broiler tray and close the door immediately.
Bake for about 30 minutes until a lightly-brown crust develops. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing and serving.