When I was a kid, my father and I would do grocery runs together, and these always ended with my father and picking up a loaf of crusty Italian bread from the bakery section. We'd continue on with the shopping, and then once we got home, the loaf would go into the oven for a fifteen minutes while he put everything else into the fridge and I chopped up garlic and added it into olive oil as a dip for the bread. When the oven timer went off, we'd sit and eat and talk.
There's nothing better than the smell of freshly baked bread, and since I already had my oven running this morning for my weekly meal prep, I figured I'd bake a loaf. I'd been promising my work friend who I always steal hummus and Israeli coffee from that I'd bake it for him someday anyway.
Bread is a very modest food with few and simple ingredients, but the trick is getting the right ratios of them. I played around with this:
- 2 cups of flour (+1/2 cup for reserve to keep on the side)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 cup warm water (a little higher than blood temp @ ~110F)
- 2 1/4 tsp dry active yeast
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp olive oil
Dissolve the sugar into the water and add your yeast. Wait about 5 minutes for it to become foamy on top. Big flashbacks to AP Bio every time I do this.
Combine the 2 cups of flour, salt, olive oil, and the yeast mixture in a bowl. Mix it until you get a shaggy dough. It'll still be pretty wet and sticky.
On olive oil, why is it that I hate olives, but love the oil? Such enigma wow so mystery wow.
It's time to get your hands dirty and knead to create the gluten, which is going to make your bread super airy and light. Sprinkle a little of the 1/2 cup reserve flour onto a clean work surface and dump your dough onto it and knead for a total of 10 minutes. If the dough still seems sticky during this process, gradually add in the reserve flour, a small spoonful at a time. You might not need to use all of it, but I did in order to get a dough that is soft and elasticky and not too wet and sticky.
When your dough is beautiful and not a mess that gets all over your fingers, transfer it into a greased bowl and oil the ball of dough to make sure it doesn't dry out while it rises. Cover the bowl with some plastic wrap or a dish towel (or both!) and set it aside in a warm place to rise for 1 hour or until the ball of dough has doubled in size. I just finished roasting kabocha for the lunch meal prep, so there was some nice warmth coming from the oven vents.
While you wait, clean your workspace! A good chef always keeps their kitchen clean.
After an hour, check to see if your dough has gotten super swole--if not, wait a bit longer, else, proceed to preheat your oven to 400F and prepare a baking sheet with some grease, parchment paper, or a silicone mat. My dough didn't rise too much after a long wait because my apartment is pretty cold right now :(
Punch down your dough a little to show it who is boss, and then shape it into a 12-inch torpedo on your baking sheet. Cover it again, and let it rise for 20 minutes.
Cut some slits into the top for aesthetics and pop it into the heated oven for 20 minutes or until you see that the surface is golden brown.
When you get the color you want, remove the bread from the oven, and you'll know it is done if it sounds hollow when you tap on the bottom of it. Let the bread cool completely before you cut into it.
After patiently waiting, you'll now have some freshly baked bread and your kitchen should be smelling phenomenal.
I highly recommend slicing up cloves of garlic into thin pieces and infusing it into some olive oil, so when you cut your slices of bread, you can tear off pieces and dip it into the oil.
But if you're a pleb like me who doesn't have fresh garlic in the kitchen, you can just add some salt and pepper into olive oil and use that--my mother prefers it this way!
Or just eat it plain or or with butter or make garlic bread or sandwiches or have it in a box with a fox or in a house with a mouse...
My apartment is pretty cold, so the dough didn't rise nearly as much as I would have liked it to, but the bread remains delicious nevertheless. The inside is still very airy and soft, and the crust has a nice crunch to it.
For next time, i might try adding coarse sea salt or pumpkin seeds on top before baking for a little added texture flavor.