No ordinary ordinaireJanuary 30, 2011
I think the very first bread book I ever acquired was Ultimate Bread by Eric Treuille & Ursula Ferrigno.* At that point in time I had no interest whatsoever in making yeast breads, but there were lots of shiny, gorgeous pictures, so I bought it anyway. I figured if nothing else, it would be nice to flip through once and then add to the cookbook shelf. As I paged through, however, I became intrigued. This book is filled with tons of information, describing a wide variety of processes and techniques, and the accompanying pictures show what things should look like at different stages of the recipes. Very cool, but it was still relegated to the shelf for several years. Yeast bread is scary, am I right???
I finally picked it back up when I was frustrated at work one day and needed something outside of my comfort zone to distract me. Turns out, yeast breads aren’t so terrifying after all. They require a little more attention, but the payoff is totally worth it. Working with the dough satisfied something inside me. The texture, feel, and smell of first the dough and then the completed loaf soothed the savage beast, so to speak. And for major bonus points, I discovered that kneading the dough was a great way to relax, pull some of the stress out of my shoulders, and it even seemed to help with some repetitive stress pain I’d been experiencing in my wrist. These days I mostly use the mixer to knead, but every once in a while I’ll still work the dough by hand.
The first recipe in the book is for pain ordinaire, or plain bread. But you know, for plain it’s pretty freaking delightful. The crust is delicious and chewy, with just a little crackle. The crumb is tight without being dense, and has a beautiful yeasty flavor. It’s a nice slicing bread – I love serving a thick slab alongside a steaming bowl of soup. Overall a great recipe, easy to make, and one I turn to regularly. If you want to try a yeast bread, but find them intimidating, this is a great place to start. No special tools needed, and only four very basic ingredients.
*I learned recently that the 1998 edition has many significant measurement/recipe errors. Later editions have been corrected and get rave reviews, so if you decide to purchase this just make sure you’re getting a non-1998 edition. This information explains why I has having so many problems with some of the other loaves, and why I am currently waiting for the 2007 edition to arrive on my doorstep.
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups water
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (unbleached)
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Sprinkle the yeast into 1/2 cup of the water in a small bowl. Stir to dissolve, then leave for 5 minutes. Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the dissolved yeast.
- Use a wooden spoon to draw enough of the flour into the dissolved yeast to form a soft paste. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let the paste ‘sponge’ until frothy, loose, and slightly expanded, about 20 minutes.
- Pour about half of the remaining water into the center of the well. Mix in the flour from the sides of the well. Stir in the reserved water, as needed, to form a firm, moist dough.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth, shiny, and elastic, about 10 minutes.
- Put the dough in a clean bowl and cover with a dish towel. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Punch down, then let rest for 10 minutes.
- Heat oven to 425F.
- Shape the dough into a long loaf, about 14 inches in length. Place the shaped loaf on a floured baking sheet and cover with a dish towel. Proof until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
- Cut 5 diagonal slashes, each about 1/4 inch deep, across the top of the loaf. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, until golden and hollow sounding when tapped underneath (internal temp of 190-200F).
- Cool on wire rack.