(from about 2003)
Tools: one small cup, two large (12″+) steel bowls, a baking sheet and a cover.
- Ingredients: white flour, brown sugar, water, salt, olive oil and freeze dried yeast.
- Fill one steel bowl to three inches deep with hot tap water. This is the heating bowl.
- Put one cup of very hot, and one cup of cold water in the other bowl. This is the mixing bowl. You mix the water this way to get the temperature about right.
- Add half a cup of sugar to the mixing bowl. Sprinkle yeast until the surface of the water is dense with yeast flakes. Stir.
- Place mixing bowl into heating bowl, so that it floats in the hot water. Place somewhere warm and cover.
This allows the yeast a near-optimal environment to rise in: consistently warm and pleasant. Bread rises very fast and very evenly in such an environment, unlike the more usual hit-and-miss winter breadmaking experience.
- Leave the yeast until it has a thick head like a beer. (say half an hour – if it doesn’t do so, you killed it with too-hot water.)
- To the foamed yeast, add half a cup of olive oil. Coat the sides of the bowl if possible.
- Add six cups of white flour and about a teaspoon or two of salt.
- Oil your hands. This is important.
- Knead all ingredients in the bowl. At first the dough has uneven consistency, but as you first mix, then fold-in-half-and-flatten the dough repeatedly, it gains an even, smooth, pleasant texture. At some point it begins to get stiffer rapidly and as you fold, the surface tears. That’s enough. This takes about five minutes.
Doing this in the bowl results in almost no mess unlike the regular approach of a floured surface. If things stick, add a little more oil. Using oil as the lubricant rather than dry flour completely changes the bread making experience from a dusty, powdery mess to a clean, elegant process.
- Refill the heating bowl to three inches deep with hot water. Float the mixing bowl in
the water, and cover again.
- Once the dough has doubled in volume (half an hour – if it’s taking longer, a warmer environment or more yeast!), briefly re-knead it into a nice ball, add more hot water to the heating bowl if it needs it, and leave it to rise again. If you intend to make more than one loaf, cut the dough into two parts at this point in the process and have each part rise separately.
- Put your oven on about about 350F to 400F (175C-200C and gas 4-6) to pre-heat
- When the dough has reached roughly the size it had when you punched it down, oil a baking sheet and place the dough on it. Oil a little wider than the dough – it will spread. A series of half-inch deep, one inch wide slits in the top of the dough will result in a pleasingly crusty loaf – without them the surface is a little smooth.
- Place in the oven for about half an hour. Over-done is a gives an very tough crust and is a little dry by the second day. Under-done is an inedible doughy mess inside the loaf. So wait until it’s good and brown before you take it out.
- Take the hot loaf, and flip it upside down. The crust will support it, and this allows the bottom of the loaf (where moisture can collect during cooking) to dry if it is a tad damp.
- Result: one beautiful loaf.
- Aftermath: and this is the good bit – there’s one slightly oily steel bowl, one fairly clean baking sheet and a floury cup. And that’s it. Messless bread making.
- Total labor for the entire process is no more than twenty minutes including all preparation and clean up.
This may not seem like a big deal, but it is: the little incremental improvements produce a discontinuity – I actually bake bread regularly for many months at a time. (then I get tired of it and fall off the wagon). Incremental process improvements – knead-in-bowl, oil-as-lubricant, float-in-heating-bowl mean that I can actually bake regularly despite being an undomesticated lazy bastard. Incremental process improvements can produce discontinuities: I bake bread all the time!
There’s a principle here about how many small aggravations in a process (flour everywhere, uncertain rising) can prevent it from actually becoming a regular part of life, and how tiny technological improvements can smooth those over. But it’s not until you get the last kink out of the system that it flows.
Give this breadmaking algorithm a try – you’ll love the bread and I think there’s a lesson in the repetition of a process until it reaches refinement.’