“How do you tell how good bread is without tasting it? Not the smell, not the look, but the sound of the crust. Listen. (crackling bread)
Oh, symphony of crackle. Only great breads sound this way.”
Ratatouille has to be my favorite animated movie. I’ve spent hours watching it with my three year old son. This is a dangerous pastime though, because each time I watch it, I feel a sudden urge to perfect my French cooking, which isn’t good for the waistline or the wallet. Yesterday was one of those days. I found myself on the couch, perusing a magazine, half listening, half watching the movie. When Colette began instructing Linguini about the ins and outs of running a restaurant, my son looked up and asked if he could make good bread too (impressionable soul, he definitely takes after me). I put my magazine down, went to the fridge and grabbed my trusty container of yeast. Bread was our aim, and not just any bread, but crusty, delicious bread, bread with a symphony of crackle. The only catch was that bread making with a three year old is about as easy as it sounds, and three year olds generally don’t have much patience when it comes to proofing, rising, punching, rising, etc. So what is a girl to do? Fortunately, I have a recipe for 5-minute bread which we have affectionately named “bucket bread” since all of the ingredients are mixed in a large container (no, I don’t use a bucket). The recipe is a modified version of the Master Recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a day. (By the way, if you haven’t heard of, or read these books, please do, I guarantee, they will change your life, or at least your bread baking.) 🙂
This recipe really does take only five minutes to throw together (15 if you include cleaning floury handprints from every surface in your kitchen – yes, seriously every surface – except the ceiling – crazy kid). It’s also not a very persnickety recipe, so if, say you accidently fall asleep during the kids’ naptime and then realize the dough has risen well over the top of the container, no worries, it will still turn out fine. Also, this recipe makes enough for four – one pound loaves, and if you don’t bake it all at once, it will keep in the fridge for several days. Just take the dough out of the fridge when you need it, shape it, let it warm up and rise for a while, and throw it in the oven. I personally think that the dough is better after it sits in the fridge for a day or two (which is why I’m writing this post now).
The secret to getting a nice crackly crust is to have a humid oven. I have heard of other bakers who put ice cubes in a tray at the bottom of the oven to create steam. I use a square, metal baking pan and fill it with about a half inch of water. Let your oven pre-heat for at least a half hour, you want the oven nice and humid when you start baking the bread, but you also don’t want the loaf to cook in steam the entire time. 5 – 10 minutes of baking with steam is sufficient to create the much desired symphony.
Easy, Symphonic, Crackly Bread
Recipe adapted from “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day”
3 cups warm water
3/4 tablespoons granulated yeast
1 1⁄2 tablespoons coarse or kosher salt, or 1/2 tablespoon table salt
6 1⁄2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Pour water into a large container, preferably one with a lid. Make sure the water is warm to the touch, a little warmer than lukewarm, but not hot enough to kill the yeast. Add salt, then sprinkle the yeast over the top of the water. Then scoop and level the flour, and add to the container. Mix all ingredients with a large spoon – I use a wood spoon – until the dough is uniformly moist. The dough should be wet enough to conform to the shape of the container, you are not trying to make a ball of dough. Cover the container loosely with plastic wrap and allow it to rise at room temperature until it starts to flatten, about 2 – 5 hours. When the dough starts to flatten, place the lid, or plastic wrap on the container, do not cover tightly, some gasses will need to escape. You can bake the dough at any time now, but for best flavor, refrigerate at least over night.
When you are ready to bake, preheat your oven to 450 degrees and place a pan with 1/2 inch of water in the bottom. While the oven is preheating, prepare the surface of your baking sheet by sprinkling flour, semolina, or cornmeal on the surface. Make sure your hands are very floured, or wet, and pull off a piece of dough (1/4 of the recipe makes one 1 pound loaf), gently mold it into whatever shape loaf you want. I find that if I gently stretch it and then fold it in thirds – like a letter – it creates a nice looking loaf. Let the dough rise for about 20 minutes – or until the oven is sufficiently pre-heated. Slash the surface of the bread, make sure your cuts are at least 1/4 inch deep. Place the bread in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow the bread to cool before slicing. Resist the urge to eat the bread warm, the inside will seem undercooked and gummy.
Once the bread has cooled, close your eyes, give it a squeeze, and listen to the symphony. 🙂