Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bread Blurb

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.”
--Robert Browning


Since the summers are so hot here in the South, I've been perfecting my bread baking technique in the wee hours of the morning. Okay, maybe not wee hours, but certainly early so I can use the oven at high temperatures and then turn if off before the house gets too warm. I'm also baking multiple loaves at once and storing them for later in the week, just as our ancestors did. I don't have one specific baking day, just when I have too much dough or not enough baked bread! The photo above shows two Pain d'Epi ("stalks of wheat", perfectly shaped to tear off a piece and get plenty of crust!) and one baguette, freshly baked this morning. They are a blend of rye, whole wheat, and bread flours with a sprinkle of sea salt and savory on top.

Since my staple recipe is a lean rustic artisan loaf (i.e., a slack, wet dough with no fat) with a long slow rise, I mix the dough a day or so before, deflate and fold it after the initial rise, and store it in the refrigerator so it has a retarded fermentation period. This adds greatly to the flavor, as well as the convenience. On baking day, I get out as much dough as I need (about 10-12 oz per loaf), shape it, and let it rise. I preheat the oven to 425-450 degrees F in the convection mode, slash and mist the dough, and pop it in the oven with steam. When done, I cool the loaves completely for 1-2 hours (depending on the size, thickness, and shape of the bread), and then freeze them in ziplock bags (sucking the air out with a straw, which is always Jeff's favorite part to watch as it makes me look pretty silly).

The best trick is reheating. I put the still-frozen loaf in a brown paper bag (long, thin sacks from the wine store work great for baguettes), fold the end under, and run the bag under the water faucet for just a second or two on each side (this keeps the bag from burning in the oven and provides some extra moisture so the bread doesn't dry out as the crust crisps). Just heat in the oven at around 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes (this is all flexible, so if you're baking something else, just stick it in and adjust the time depending on the temperature). Out comes warm, crisp, chewy bread, as if it were freshly baked! This also works for any kind of store-bought French bread, boule, baguette, or other crusty bread.


  1. I am VERY interested in your bread recipes! the few - okay, several - times I've baked bread, it's flopped (even sometimes in a literal sense). Conner is a huge breadeater (I'm more for pasta) so we can hardly keep it around the house. If I could make it nicely on my own, it would be great!

  2. Hey Sarah! I love all of your posts! Rachel sent me a link to your blog and I have been hooked. Very refreshing ideas and I love all of the home improvement activities! The bread looks amazing. I make most of our own bread, but with a bread maker. I would like to try more artisian breads though. Oh! Thanks for that beer bread recipe. I made some last night and the family loved it. We have a couple of cases of dark beer (that we didn't like) that is going off so I've been trying to find ways to cook with it. Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for all the good ideas!

  3. Melinda, my rustic bread recipes are really simple; they all consist of just flour, water, yeast, and salt. The difference is in the handling of it, which is pretty technical. It took me several months of reading and practice to master. There is a simple version that I can post if you want to try an artisan-type bread. I can recommend a great book, too. I'll try to make that a separate post in a day or so.

    Eyren, I'm so glad you're enjoying the blog. It's fun to put together, so I'm thrilled that it's fun to read!

  4. I'd love to try the artisan-type bread - I look forward to your post!

  5. I've been wanting to try my hand at bread but so far all I've managed is pizza crust. BUT doing that has resulted in a superior crust, so I cannot imagine that bread is any different. Have a couple of recipes to try but can't seem to find the time to mix, wait, second rise, wait, bake, cool. It's all too much for starting at 3PM. :)Maybe when things settle down over here. . . .

  6. Valerie, you can use the refrigerator method above with any bread. Try mixing the recipe as usual, but reduce the yeast a bit. Let the dough rise an hour or two, and then refrigerate overnight. The next day, a few hours before baking, shape the bread, let rise about an hour, and then bake. You'll have to play with the yeast amount and rising times depending on sandwich bread or rustic loaves, but it always works and is a great time saver. Then you really can start at 3 pm and have fresh bread on the table for dinner at 5-6!