I recently bought a Mar-Crest Daisy Dot Ceramic Baker during a long weekend trip to Calaveras County. I’m an avid visitor to second-hand shops so when we ran across one during our trip, I wandered in and found myself examining chairs, glassware, and other assorted household ephemera. The husband geek called me over to where he was standing and pointed out this dark brown pot that he thought I might like. It was dark brown and shiny with these cute little dots and lines made to look like little daisies. It had a cover and when I looked inside the pot, I realized it was quite deep and roomy. I ran my hands around the pot and inspected it for any chips or cracks and found it was in good condition. I immediately thought how great breads would taste when baked inside the baker. I have been baking every one of our breads in our household for almost 2 months straight now and I had fallen in love with the ‘No-Knead’ method of bread baking popularized by Jeff Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York (http://www.sullivanstreetbakery.com). I carried my ‘trophy’ to the register, paid for my prize and left the store proudly clutching my treasure in my arms much like I did with my baby-geek three years ago.
I’m now at home, staring at my lovely ceramic baker and facing the prospect of baking a loaf of bread. I peruse one of my favorite bread books- a modest volume called “Country Breads of the World”. I found my favorite old-fashioned white loaf recipe and decided that this would be the perfect bread to ‘christen’ my new baker. I got to work and substituted some the of the bread flour with some whole wheat flour and some oatmeal to make it healthy. After a knead and a first rise, I shaped the dough into a boule or round dome and placed it inside the baker. An hour passes and the dough is puffed and beautiful. I place a generous dusting of flour on the dough and place the lid on top and pop it in the oven. A half and hour later, I removed the top and let the dough bake a few minutes more. What emerged 15 minutes later was a beautiful golden puffy loaf. All was not perfect though- I had forgotten that bread can stick when the vessel it’s baked in isn’t preheated or greased so I had to do an emergency extraction of the bread with my plastic fish spatula to free my bread from the baker. Despite the small dent on the side, my bread was still beautiful and sliced perfectly. I slathered it with peanut butter and apricot jelly and when I tasted it, I was six years old again, having a midnight snack with my father. Perfect!
Rosemary Rowson’s Farmhouse Loaf Recipe
Recipe from Country Breads of the World, by Linda Collister and Anthony Blake
Makes 1 Large Loaf
6 1/2 cups (750g) unbleached white bread flour
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 Tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter, diced
2 teaspoons sugar
23g fresh cake yeast *
1 3/4 cups (450ml) lukewarm water
a loaf pan, about 10x5x3 inches, greased OR a ceramic cast-iron pot, greased
- Gently warm the flour before you start- leave it next to a heater or an airing cupboard or a low over, for a few minutes or give it 15 seconds on high in the microwave. (The warmth will encourage the yeast to grow well.)
- Mix the salt with the flour, then rub the butter using the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in the sugar, then make a well in the center. Crumble the yeast into a bowl or cup and stir in some of the water. When the yeast is thoroughly dispersed, pour the liquid into the well in the flour. using a wooden spoon, start mixing in the flour, gradually adding the rest of the water. The mixture should come together but not sticky dough. if the dough seems dry and there are crumbs in the bottom of the bow, add a little more warm water.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface- don’t worry if it looks an uncompromising mess at this point. Using floured hands, knead the dough thoroughly for 5 minutes- the dough will feel firmer, very smooth, and pliable. Return the dough to the floured mixing bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Leave it to rise in a warm but not hot spot until doubled in size- about 1 hour.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and knead gently on a lightly floured work surface to expel all the bubbles of air. Using plenty of flour on your hands and the work surface, flatten out the dough to a rectangle with the short end the same size as the length of the pan. Roll up tightly and put into the prepared pan, seam-side down. Lightly dust with flour. Put the pan into a large plastic bag and leave to rise as before until almost doubled in size- the time will depend on the temperature of the dough and the room and the vigor of the yeast, but allow 40-60 minutes. Do not let the loaf get any larger or it may collapse in the oven.
- Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the pan from the bag and bake for 30-35 minutes until the bread is dark golden brown and sounds hollow when unmolded and tapped underneath. Return the unmolded loaf to the oven, putting it straight on the shelf, and bake for another 5-10 minutes until the crust is really crisp and golden. Cool on a wire rack.
- The bread is best eaten within 4 days, or toasted. Once cooled, it can be frozen for up to a month.
- You can use 4 teaspoons rapid-rise or active dry yeast instead of fresh yeast. Mix the dry yeast into the warm flour with the sugar, then add the water and continue with the recipe.
- Variation- Use a greased cast-iron Dutch oven and bake covered for the first 15 minutes of baking. This creates a loftier, taller loaf.