final product

I’m starting with the bare essentials. Flour. Yeast. Water. Some salt and some sugar, and extra virgin olive oil, and I find myself prepared for a basic bread dough, courtesy of the orange Croc-clad Mario Batali.

active dry yeastflour
sugarolive oil cap

I began, in my neurotic enthusiasm, going exactly according to the recipe. I tried, however, to mix the batter with a KitchenAid stand mixer dough hook, aptly named for its crooked curvature. It didn’t work at all. So I grabbed the heavy lump of dough out of the mixing bowl and kneaded it with my hands for about 15 minutes per the recipe’s request – quite the workout for a kneading novice (but I’m sure Mario could roll the dough with only his pinky). The dough miraculously developed into a large ball on the cutting board. I plopped it in a bowl lightly-coated with EVOO, covered it with a kitchen towel and let it sit on the counter for two hours until it swelled to twice its original size. I punched it down the middle and divided it into two nonstick loaf pans.

flour and olive oil

Instead of baking it right then and there, I decided to let it sit overnight in the refrigerator, because a little birdie once told me the “overnight fridge sit” was important, and… it wasn’t. In the morning, the bread ceased to rise again and I was left with vertically-challenged loaves. Nevertheless, I put them in the oven for about 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees (a tip from another, more knowledgeable birdie, because the original recipe didn’t divulge anything about actually baking the dough). And the results? Aromatic pouches of olive oily goodness, save their modest appearance. A very basic bread, indeed, but a good first effort. The bread would be fantastic by itself or as a sidecar to breakfast, with fresh butter or jam (like the cherry and peach preserves we bought from Sleeping Bear Orchards. Or with olive oil and parmesan? Yes, please. (P.S. My family devoured one and a half loaves of this bread within the first four hours of its life. I think we’re in desperate need of some good dough.)

tasty slice

Debrief: In the future, I’d suggest dividing the dough into the loaf tins before it rises and then let it sit. I’d also skip the overnight refrigeration, or at least put the dough in the fridge before it rises in the first place if you can’t bake it right away.

Basic Bread Dough
courtesy of Mario Batali

½ cup warm water
3 tsp dry yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
4 cups high-gluten flour
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

From Batali: Place warm water in a warm mixing bowl and add yeast. Stir to dissolve and let stand 3 minutes. Add salt and sugar and stir through. Add flour and olive oil and mix, using hands until you can knead the dough without it sticking to your fingers. Add more water, if needed.

Wash and dry hands and remove ball to cutting board. Knead the dough, occasionally dusting with 1 teaspoon flour, until a firm, smooth homogenous ball is formed, about 15 minutes. Place ball of dough in a lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place until its size is doubled, about 2 hours. Punch down and divide into two pieces.

Dough is now ready for use.

Extra punches: Bake bread at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes in two nonstick loaf pans. Remove from oven and serve warm.