Sunday, February 28, 2016

Crusty Dutch Oven Bread

A lot of my friends thought I nuts for splashing out almost $300 for a Le Creuset Dutch Oven. I knew from the start this would be a lifelong investment piece and not a one-use item. I have already gotten more than my money's worth of use out of it just in all the roasting I have done. But the beauty of a piece like this is not just the beautiful seafoam green colored enamel on the outside, it's the versatility you have on the inside!

Now that summer is in the rearview mirror I like to get back to baking, and I have promised The Chef that I will bake more homemade bread, so after digging through loads of cookbooks from my collection (I should write a post just about THAT one of these days) and browsing bread recipes online I have discovered that bread bakers all over are using those Dutch ovens to bake amazing crusty artisan loaves of beautiful bread. I can do this! 

I have lots of options when it comes to utensils for bread baking. Stoneware pans, metal and glass loaf pans, metal and glass bowls, the pizza stone for foccacia and flatbreads, even a cast iron skillet. I guess it's just natural that I should look at the Dutch oven as well. I love the look of round loaves of bread. I've shared bread recipes before that were round loaves. They remind me of old European bakeries, with the neat slashes on the top and dusting of flour that you often see. Instead of a picture-perfect loaf pan-shaped loaf you get a free-form loaf that's one of a kind with those beautiful imperfections and super crunchy crust. 

Today we are going to make a simple white crusty bread. It's a soft no-knead dough made with regular flour, so you don't have to hunt down fancy flours, grains or anything you probably don't already have on hand, except maybe yeast. I have made this using whole wheat flour before and found it just didn't rise well and seemed heavy like a quick bread- not what I wanted at all.  We use a lot of yeast at our house so we always keep some around, and store it in the fridge so it stays fresher. This dough has no sugar or honey either, so it's a slow-riser, which is perfectly fine- mix up your dough in the morning and let it sit and proof for at least 8 hours before you bake it. You don't have to punch it down or do anything to it so you can make it before you go to work, and bake when you get home. No more excuses for not making fresh, homemade bread!

Let's get started on this super easy bread. You will need-
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt- kosher or sea salt is best
  • 1 teaspoon yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water- about 105-115 degrees
In a great big bowl, stir together the flour, salt and yeast. I like to use a whisk instead of sifting- really gets things mixed together and keeps it light and fluffy not packed down.

Make a well in the middle and add all of the water. Mix it with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms, but don't go crazy mixing it. You will have a dense, tough bread if you over-mix the dough.

Cover your bowl tightly with plastic wrap and leave it sit at room temperature for at least 8 hours, and as long as 24. The dough will rise in the bowl and look bubbly and weird like a science project. I like that brand of plastic wrap that is kinda sticky and seals itself to the bowl rim but if I am out of that I'll even put a plastic grocery bag over the top of my bowl- works great! 

When it's time to bake the bread, turn the oven to 450 degrees. Once the oven is at temp, place the Dutch oven in the oven. Don't worry, your Dutch oven can take it- they are meant for this kind of thing. Let the Dutch oven heat in the oven for thirty minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board or table or even the counter top. Flour your hands and form the dough into a ball. I place the inverted bowl over the dough to cover it and let it rest while my Dutch oven preheats.

It doesn't look too impressive when it first goes in the super hot pot.
When the Dutch oven is ready, carefully place the dough in the pot- be careful! It is extremely hot! My Dutch oven is enamel-coated so I don't have to worry about sticking but if you're using some other type of pan or bowl you can place the dough on parchment paper to prevent sticking. Replace the cover and return to the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue baking 10-15 minutes until the loaf is nicely browned and sounds hollow when you tap on it.

After the first 30 minutes. This reminds me of the par-baked
bread you can buy at the grocery store.
Carefully remove from the hot pot and allow to cool on a rack a little bit before slicing. This helps the bread stabilize itself, the steam eases and the bread won't collapse.

Super crispy, super crunchy and perfectly browned!!
If you're like me, you just fell in love with this bread and you'll be playing with flavors and planning to make it again. It works great with things like dried herbs, chopped sun dried tomato bits, garlic, crumbled cooked bacon, even Parmesan cheese. Leftover bread stays fresh for a day or two. Unlike grocery store bread there are no preservatives so it does get moldy around the third or fourth day, if it lasts that long! It also makes excellent croutons the next day- just toss with olive oil or melted butter and toast in a hot skillet until golden brown all over and crispy. I think next time I'll grab some Italian meats, cheeses and tapenade and make my round bread into a muffaletta for football day. Stop back by and share how you enjoyed your round artisan bread! I'd love to hear about it!

1 comment:

  1. I am so making this. I have a smaller dutch oven--so hopefully this will work in it. I need to double check the size before I bake this. Great recipe! Thanks!