Saturday, June 25, 2016

Artisan Bread & Variations

Kudos to my daughter Aryn for "converting" me to this easy, no-stress method of making the most amazing bread ever.  No flavor quite like it.  She sold out of this every single week last summer at her Farmer's Market.

The technique of making Artisan(al) bread seriously does yield a more delicious loaf.  The key is patience. Most mass-produced breads use chemicals and high-energy mixers to speed up fermentation.

The long fermentation process in Artisan bread gives dough up to 24 hours to develop, and it really does produce a unique flavor.

This type of bread is actually easier to digest, because the enzymes have had time to begin breaking down the gluten in the flour while fermenting. As a rule of thumb, the longer the production process, the longer its shelf life will be.

So... here's how it's done.  It begins with a very simple formula for a standard loaf of bread.  You can then dress it up with lots of other ingredients.  I'll give you three other variations at the end of this post - all are delicious.

Artisan Bread

3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp instant or rapid-rise yeast
1-3/4 tsp kosher salt
1-1/2 cups water (the water does not have to be warm)

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and yeast.  Now add the water, and mix until a very messy, shaggy mixture forms.  This "dough" does not have to be smooth, but most of the liquid should be absorbed into the flour.  

Cover with plastic wrap and set it aside for at least 12-18 hours.  Overnight works great.  (You can refrigerate it if you'd like, but that really slows down the rising)

When ready to bake your bread, preheat your oven to 450°.  When the temperature has been reached, place a large cast iron pot (preferably with a lid) in the oven and allow the pot to heat for 30 minutes.  *Note - you may also use stoneware, glass, or metal pans - just check to make sure they can be heated to 450° without cracking.

Meanwhile, spoon the dough onto a heavily floured surface and shape into a ball (using a floured spatula or your hands).  Cover with wrap while the pot is heating.  (I like to let the dough rise from this point on on top of a sheet of parchment paper - which makes it easier to transfer to the hot pot)

Remove hot pot from the oven and drop in the dough.  Immediately cover with lid (or foil, if you don't have a lid for the pan you're using) and return to the oven for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, remove the lid or foil, and bake an additional 15 minutes.   (*Covering the bread for the first 30 minutes creates a bit of steam that causes the bread to rise quickly.  It also creates that crackly-shiny crust that makes Artisan bread irresistible)

Remove bread from oven and allow to cool on wire rack.


Cranberry Orange Almond Artisan Bread

Add zest from one orange to the flour mixture, then add 1/2 cup dried cranberries and 1/2 cup toasted almonds (slivered almonds work well).

White Chocolate Pecan Artisan Bread 
(similar to the bread sold at Harmon's grocery in Utah)

Add 1/2 cup white chocolate chips and 1/2 cup whole pecans.  Don't worry about the charred white chocolate that makes it's way to the surface - it's quite tasty, even though it looks 'ruined'.

Spinach, Feta, & Sun Dried Tomato Artisan Bread  
(similar to Great Harvest "Popeye Bread" 
- only sold on Fridays in Utah stores)

Add 1/2 of a 10-oz package frozen chopped spinach (cook and squeeze dry in paper towels), 1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese, 1/3 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes (squeeze out the oil, if packed in oil).  You can also add red pepper flakes (crush between your fingers to release the oils) - about 1/2 to 1 tsp, and cracked black pepper to taste.

A photo of the real Great Harvest "Popeye Bread"
Notice the chunks of parmesan cheese baked throughout.
If you can afford to do that, you'll love it!
*Note - Great Harvest uses chunks of Parmesan cheese in their Popeye Bread, which is yummy as well - but quite expensive.  Feta cheese is a good substitute.

A few pictures below illustrate how I doubled this in my Bosch to make two loaves...


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