Follow Your Nose . . .
Fun fact: one of my favorite smells in the whole world is the smell of a brewery. Living near the Christian Moerlein brewery in Cincinnati, I’ve spent my whole life breathing in the rich, yeasty smell that comes wafting through the city periodically, which it does particularly frequently on cool September and October days, so that I connect the smell most vividly with the return of early mornings and back-to-school.
Driving down one of Cincinnati’s steep hills with the window down, heading nearer with every second to both my high school and the brewery, the smell would hit me full-on, knocking even thoughts of upcoming tests or plans with my friends from my mind.
I had no idea making Deb’s bread would have just about the same effect on me. I mean, the smell of basil is one of my favorites, too, and I pretty much expect to be bowled over with that happy green tang when I make pesto, say, or Margherita pizza. But this bread was a surprise. The ingredient list is so simple, each one included seems to bear more weight––the yeast, therefore, is really given a chance to shine.
Furthermore, the hands-off (pun intended) approach to making this bread allows the yeast to do all the work. Do as I did and combine the basic ingredients for this bread the night before you intend to bake it, and you’ll awake to find the yeast has been busy working all night long, puffing up the dough into a most delicious-looking orb, as pale gold and speckled with craters as a harvest moon.
And for fellow yeast-lovers, the smell is simply superb–– almost matched by enticing smell of the bread as it bakes, or the first warm bite of the bread itself.
What smells do you like to “cook” with?
Yields one, 1-1/2 pound loaf
- 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
- 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1-1/4 teaspoons salt
- 1-5/8 cups water
- Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.
- In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt.
- Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be quite sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature (around 70 degrees) for no less than 12 hours, 18 is ideal. I put everything together the night before so that the dough was ready to go the next morning.
- Lightly flour a work surface and dump dough out onto it; then sprinkle with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice – resist the temptation to knead the dough – it really is as simple as folding it over once or twice.
- Cover loosely and let rest about 15 minutes.
- Using just enough flour (no real measurements) to keep your dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, you want to gently shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (don’t use terry cloth unless you like little bits of cotton with your bread) with flour; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour – you can also use a bit of bran or cornmeal – all will work.
- Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for an additional 2 hours. When ready, the dough will be more than double in size and won’t spring back when poked with a finger.
- At least a half-hour before baking, heat oven to 450°F and place a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (all clad, cast iron, roaster – all will work) in oven as it heats. The whole idea here is that the pot is hot when the bread dough goes in and starts baking immediately; it will also provide a nice, brown crust on the bottom.
- When your dough is ready to bake, remove pot from oven. Slip your hand under the towel and flip the dough over into pot, seam side up; it’s going to look messy, but don’t worry – just give your pan a shake or two if the dough is unevenly distributed. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned.
- Cool on a rack . . . dig in!