As opposed to my last bread post on no-knead artisan bread, I found myself on a lazy Sunday afternoon wanting to knead bread. Okay, really wanting to eat bread but I hadn’t mixed up another batch of the no-knead stuff and I wanted to compare kneading and rising with no-knead.
I pulled out Brother Juniper’s Bread Book,which my ex-husband had given me many years ago at my request, when I was staying home with young children. I’d been reading Walden (Concord Library). (Hard to believe that was written 150 years ago. It’s still worth reading!)And slowing down was required. I mean, I guess you can rush kids but really life is much more fun when you slow down.
That still appeals to me, even though I’m the mother of a college girl and a high school girl now. They still like to eat fresh bread! And I still like to bake it. I like the smell of yeastiness and I like the actual kneading, where you can feel the bread change as you knead.
So I pulled out the old book and halved his basic white bread recipe. I also used all all-purpose flour rather than half bread flour and half all-purpose because I didn’t have any bread flour. My yeast is at least 2 years old, btw. I bought a big pack at Costco and keep all but a cup or so in the freezer, just refilling a jar in the fridge as needed. It is still quite active!
So if you have a few hours and want good bread, try this. I was not home the entire time by the way. I mixed up the dough and kneaded it, then put it to rise while I went off and did some chores. My daughter and I were heading up to a neighboring town to meet “the chicken guy” and I punched the dough down, shaped it back into a bowl, covered it and we left. We got back an hour and a half later or so and I punched it down again and shaped into a round loaf, then let rise while I went grocery shopping. When I got back it was ready to bake. The timing of the rises is not critical. You can adapt it to your schedule.
This makes one large loaf. You can shape it into 1 flute or round or 2 small baguettes.
- 4 1/2 cups flour (half bread and half all-purpose if you can)
- 1 Tbs sea salt
- 1 Tbs active dry yeast
- 1.5 cups water
- polenta to bake it on (don’t mix into the dough!)
Mix the flour, salt, yeast and water in a bowl until it forms a bowl. Turn out onto a floured board or countertop and knead 10-12 minutes. You’ll feel the dough pull together. It becomes less sticky but still a bit tacky. Form it into a ball and put somewhere to rise. I just bought a wooden bread bowl because I do like to bake bread, but you can use any bowl.
The dough needs to be in a relatively not-cool slightly warm area, away from drafts. If your house is really cold, you can turn the oven on just a minute or so, then turn it off and leave just the light on to provide a bit of warmth. Cover the dough with a damp cotton towel.
Let it rise “until doubled.” You’ll know what that means after a time or two. The dough basically doubles in volume as it rises. This usually takes an hour and a half or so but don’t panic about setting a timer or anything. If the house is cool, it might take longer. If it’s a warm day, it might take less time but it will wait for you.
Punch the dough down, reshape into a ball and let it rise again, about the same amount of time, covered again with the towel.
This time, punch it down and shape into a loaf. You can just pat into a rustic shape, turning the bottoms under as you go to provide a smooth top.
Or roll it into a rectangle, then fold into thirds and roll out again. Form into thirds again (seam on the bottom). Basically you’re creating a shape that will rise UP and not out due to the folding. This will make a long loaf.
If you want a round loaf, do the first bit, then turn the folded dough so the folds run vertically (top to bottom), roll the dough again into a rectangle and fold in thirds again, top to bottom and bend the ends underneath. It’s probably kind of squarish at this point. Just turn around a few times in your hands tucking the ends under a bit so it becomes more round.
However you shape it, let it rise again. If you’re baking it on a cookie sheet, put a good amount of cornmeal or polenta on the sheet and place the bread there to rise. If you’re baking on a stone, place the polenta and then the dough on a paddle and let it rise another hour or so. Or you can it in the fridge overnight at this point and bake it the next day. Cover with a towel either way.
Preheat the oven to 425 F. I use my pizza pan to bake it on but you can use a cookie sheet, as I did for years.
Spray the loaf with water and put in the preheated oven. In 2 minutes, spray again. In 2 more minutes spray again. And again. So 4 sprayings of water altogether. Alternately you could try doing empty pan and adding hot water as per the no-knead bread I did earlier.
Bake another 10 -20 minutes, depending on whether you made baguettes or a round loaf. The bread should LOOK done. Turn the oven off and let it sit with the door closed another 10 -20 minutes, again depending on the size of the loaves. I did the round loaf and so baked 15 minutes then let it sit in the turned off oven another 20 minutes. It was not underdone or overdone, but nearly perfect. This will vary a bit depending on the shape and size of your loaves.
So my verdict? This bread is lighter than the no-knead bread, which makes sense because of the 3 times I let it rise. It was a bigger loaf as well but then I got 4 smaller loaves out of the artisan recipe which used about twice the amount of everything. I liked this one better, but I do like the no-knead bread (which still rises but only once per loaf).
So if you plan ahead and have the fridge space, go with the no-knead bread. It’s a slightly denser smaller loaf so maybe better for smaller families. However, you are committing to the space in the refrigerator to store the dough. If you just want to bake bread once a week, as in the “olden days”, you might want to double this. You can bake this in loaf pans for a “regular” shaped loaf of bread. Form the loaf and pinch the seams in together at the bottom so it rises up the sides of the loaf pan.
If you want whole wheat bread, use a 2:1 ratio of bread flour to wheat flour. I have not tried that yet, just reporting from the book.