Episode 123 – “Dr. Strangeloaf”

Posted: April 11, 2019 in Season 8
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I think baking, and particularly bread making, can be intimidating for those who have little experience with it. However, I also find that baking can be one of the most rewarding culinary escapades. I began making bread at home many years ago, sort of just thrusting myself into the process, and I found that a hands-on approach was the fastest, and best, way to learn. I’ve had some flops over the years, but I’ve also made some really delicious bread and pastries. The 123rd episode of Good Eats takes the viewer through the two-day process of making a homemade loaf of white bread, and I think it is a great introduction to home bread making.

Very Basic Bread

Alton’s basic bread starts in the evening with a pre-fermentation step, which is also called a sponge. To make the sponge, place the following ingredients in a lidded, straight-sided container:  10 ounces of water (bottled is best), 5 ounces of bread flour, 1/4 t instant dry yeast, and 2 t honey.

Note that instant dry yeast is different from active dry yeast, as active dry yeast must first be activated in warm water, while instant dry yeast can be added without the hydration step. Whisk the sponge ingredients together until they are combined, place the lid on the container, and refrigerate the sponge for eight to 12 hours, or overnight.

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Sponge after refrigerating overnight.

The following day, put the following ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer:  11 ounces of bread flour, 3/4 t instant dry yeast, 2 t Kosher salt, and the refrigerated sponge from the night before.

Using the dough hook attachment on the mixer, let the machine knead the dough until it forms a ball in the bottom of the bowl, which should take a few minutes. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let the dough rest for 20 minutes.

After the dough has rested, let the machine knead the dough (again, with the dough hook) for 5-10 minutes on medium speed or until the dough appears to be smooth and elastic. Oh, and if your dough starts climbing the dough hook, increase the mixing speed briefly and it should dislodge the climbing dough. You will know your kneading is complete when a small marble of dough can be flattened and stretched between your fingers, such that the dough is thin enough for light to shine through the dough without the dough tearing; this is called the windowpane test.

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Dough after kneading for 5-10 minutes and able to pass windowpane test.

Once your dough passes the windowpane test, place the dough ball in a tall, clear, oiled container. Place a rubber band around the container to mark the top surface of the dough, as this will allow you to monitor how much your dough rises. Next, place the container in a cold oven, leaving the container uncovered. Place a 9 x 13″ baking dish beneath the dough and pour in some hot water. The hot water will provide a warm, moist environment in which the bread can rise. Shut the oven door and allow the dough to rise for one to two hours, or until it has doubled in size.

After rising, dump the dough onto a smooth surface and use your knuckles to dimple/flatten the dough into a rectangle.

Fold the left third of the dough in to the center of the rectangle, and then fold the right third of the dough over the top (as if making a tri-fold wallet).

Repeat the procedure again, first using your knuckles to flatten the dough, and then folding the dough like a wallet again.

After folding the dough a second time, cover the dough with a towel and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.

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Dough after resting for 10 minutes.

Next, flatten the dough and form it into a smooth, tight ball by pulling the ends under the dough, as if forming a jellyfish. Smooth the ball by lightly rolling it on the counter in a circular motion between your hands, as if almost tossing it laterally from hand to hand.

When your dough has formed a smooth ball, place the dough on a cornmeal-sprinkled pizza peel, cover the dough with a towel, and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for an hour. Toward the end of the rise, place the base of a large, unglazed terra cotta planter upside down in a cold oven (if the oven is hot, the planter base will crack). Preheat the oven to 400. If you do not have a planter base, you can use a pizza stone.

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Inverted terra cotta planter base in cold oven.

After rising, brush the bread with a shaken mixture of 1/3 C water and 1 T cornstarch, and use a sharp knife to cut four slits in the top of the dough, forming a square shape.

As for the first rise, pour hot water into the 9 x 13″ pan beneath the planter. Using the pizza peel, slide the dough onto the terra cotta base (the dough will stick a little), and set the oven timer for 50 minutes.

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Dough placed on hot terra cotta planter base. Tray of water beneath.

After 50 minutes of baking, use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of your bread – it should be between 205 and 210 degrees.

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Bread at 207 degrees.

Once your bread is in the desired temperature range, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

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Finished bread.

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Finished bread, sliced.

This is a really good recipe because it isn’t over complicated and it works. This recipe produces a great, all-purpose loaf of bread with a crispy crust and chewy crumb. This is a great everyday go-to bread recipe.

 

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