I love everything about making bread. It’s alive, it smells great, and I get to punch it. (Take that, dough.) I like that it requires patience, elbow grease, and intermittent attention. Maybe when I have children running circles around my feet, smashing their heads into table corners, and playing indoor kickball, I will appreciate the little-to-no effort afforded by a dough hook or a bread machine, but I doubt it. (I derive a good deal of pleasure from being a militant purist about random things, and I don’t think that will ever change.)
I had forgotten how great this kind of bread can be. Crusty on the outside. Soft—but not too soft—on the inside. The perfect little edible plate! Which is exactly what I needed for my Calabrian green tomatoes, which were ready to be drained, rinsed, jarred, and eaten (finally!).
(from Cucina di Calabria)
- 2 1/2 teaspoons (or 1 package) of active dry yeast
- 1 1/4 cups of warm water
- 3 cups of unbleached or all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons of sugar
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 egg yolk
Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup of warm (not hot) water and let rest for 5 minutes, or until yeast begins to foam. (If yeast does not activate, discard and try again.)
While you are waiting for the yeast to activate, combine flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl and make a well in the center. Pour yeast mixture and remaining 1 cup of water into the well, and gradually mix flour in with a fork. Once you can no longer mix with the fork, transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6–8 minutes. Put dough in a bowl, coat with olive oil, and cover with a tea towel. Let dough rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size (1 1/2 to 2 hours).
Turn dough out on a floured surface. Punch down and shape into two oblong loaves, about 12 inches long. If you own a baking stone, begin preheating the stone in your oven now at 425°. Place loaves on a peel dusted with cornmeal, cover, and let rise for another 40 minutes. (If you do not own a baking stone, let dough rise on the cookie sheet you will be using to bake them.)
(Note: Placing a pan of boiling water underneath your bread while it’s baking will make it extra crusty. If you’d like to do this, begin boiling water towards the end of the second rise, at the same time you prepare the egg wash.)
Mix egg yolk and one tablespoon of water in a small bowl. Score loaves 3 or 4 times, about 1/4 inch deep. Using a pastry brush, coat top of loaves with the egg wash.
Bake at 425° for 10 minutes, then lower to 400° and bake for an additional 30–35 minutes. (If you tap the bread near the bottom and it sounds hollow, it’s done!) Use for bruschetta, garlic bread, or whatever you like. And if your bread goes stale, don’t throw it out! You can make croutons or—my favorite use for stale bread—break bread into bite size pieces, drizzle with oil and balsamic vinegar, and let soften for a few minutes before eating.