Ok, so this is something I have been meaning to write about at some point, but since we are all at home now staying safe and keeping everyone else (!) safe, it is the perfect time to bake bread, focaccia, pizza or any other similar things. This is the best way to have fresh good quality bread at home and to avoid going out.
I know everyone is very anxious at this moment and we all can’t wait when this will be over, but we have to stay patient and we have to stay at home. Even if we feel well, and we are young and have no previous serious or prolonged illnesses, we can be carrying the virus and be putting at risk the more vulnerable around us! So minimise your shop visits to a minimum, buy raw materials and cook things at home! You will learn something new, keep yourself busy and won’t potentially put others at bigger risk.
Ingredients and time are important
So we know industrial bread is not good for us. Because it contains too much salt, because the fermentation’s have been too short, no flavour has been developed and some speculate that many have some gluten intolerance (not speaking about the serious celiac disease, but just some unpleasant effects of having gluten foods).
We are at home at this point so we can do longer fermentations. It will make the bread baking much easier and it will be so much more flavourful as the longer fermentation will develop more complex flavours.
So you will need…
- 500 G FLOUR – I suggest you make a mix of wholemeal and white flour of good quality, but it can be either one on its own (100%)
- 350 G WATER preferably between 32 to 35 degrees Celsius (70%)
- 2 G YEAST – I use dry yeast, an organic one is preferable but what ever you have will work! If you have beer yeast, you should use double the quantity (04%)
- 11 G SALT (2,2%)
I use this both for pizza and for bread.
This takes at least 6 hours of fermenting. BUT the best option is to leave this overnight in the fridge for an even longer fermentation.
I really advise you to invest in a small digital kitchen scale, it really helps you a lot when baking bread. And a food thermometer, it’s excellent for meat or for water temperature for perfect tea brewing or bread baking!
First, you will mix the flour together with the water at the correct temperature, make sure it’s not under 30 degrees. You can mix this with a plastic spatula or directly by hand. You will leave this mixture for 30 min for the autolysis to happen.
Autolysis is the process where more complex sugars will start to divide into smaller, simpler molecules – simple sugars. This will be the best food for the yeasts, so we’re helping them out a bit in this phase.
Mixing yeast and salt in
After the 30min will have passed, you can sprinkle the yeast and salt over the mix and ALWAYS with a wet hand fold the mix on itself. Whenever the mass sticks to your hands, don’t use more flour, wet your hand, this works like a charm. Keep folding it for about a minute.
Folding? Yes, this bread baking is going to be pretty easy, no heavy kneeling needed. You will just take an outer part of the dough and fold it over, be careful that it doesn’t break.
Giving it time to rise
As Ken Forkish says in the video, the best option is to give the bread the necessary folds during the first two hours of fermentation.
So I just put a clock for 30 min each, to leave the dough fermenting a bit and after 30min I will fold it.
Do a fold and cover the dough with a kitchen linen towel.
In two hours you can do 4 folds, and that will be enough. After this step you can just leave it to finish fermentation in the fridge until the next day, or for at least 3 hours more.
As you can see in the two pictures, in the first hours your dough will go from something quite liquid to a more firm bubbly dough. Don’t worry, the dough might seem very wet at the beginning but it is supposed to be like that, so we can give it plenty of time to ferment.
Proofing it means putting the final fold for the bread before baking it.
In this phase you will need more flour or I like to use semolina to make it more crunchy when baking.
On a free surface sprinkle plenty of flour or semolina, this will be your work surface where you will put the dough out for the fold.
Here I really prefer to put enough flour for it not to stick to my hands. Once you have folded it in a tight ball, put it in a well-floured bowl and cover it with the towel IF YOU WILL COOK IT IN THE NEXT HOUR.
Or cover it with a plastic bag or kitchen plastic wrap IF YOU INTEND ON PUTTING IT IN THE FRIDGE FOR LONGER, like until the next day.
A Dutch oven is the best cooking pot you can have. You can use it for slow cooking meat or legumes for long hours on the fire, or you can use it as an ideal vessel to cook bread. And I must say I am a sucker for La Creuset, it’s just so great!
You have to preheat the oven and the Dutch oven itself 30min before cooking the bread dough. Each oven is different but this phase will require quite a lot of heat, so I suggest to put the temperature at 250 degrees C and the option of ventilation and top and bottom heating.
Once you have preheated the Dutch oven, be EXTREMELY careful to take it out of the oven and taking off the lid, we don’t want to end up at the hospital for burns!
Put your fermented puffy dough in the hot Dutch oven, cover it with the lid and cook it in the same temperature as preheated for 30min, then take off the lid and continue baking for 10min or so until the top part is nice and brown.
Once you take the bread out, let it cool in the air so it stays crunchy on the outside and doesn’t go too soft on the crust.
So what to do if you don’t have a Dutch oven? You can bake your wonderful bread anyway, I would just suggest you bake it in a pre-heated tray and for the first 30min cover it with aluminum foil so the humidity doesn’t escape.
So what about pizza? And focaccia?
Here as well, I suggest the same temperature as you would use for barking bread. Preheat the oven and the tray at 250 degrees C for 30 min on ventilation heat top and bottom.
Get a nice big wooden cutting board (better something you can move so you can slide your pizza on the hot cooking tray later). But enough flour or semolina so the dough doesn’t stick and start working it by hand and the roll to give it the shame and thickness you want to achieve. Move the board once in a while and make sure the dough is moving on it and doesn’t stick. If it sticks, put more flour!
Let your imagination do its job here. If you think you don’t have anything in the fridge to put on the pizza, think again! Don’t think traditional flavours, see what you have! Veggies? Cheese? An untraditional sauce! Go for it! Invent something new! Really, the pizzas I made came out spectacular, even the alioli base!
Or make a focaccia! Just some olive oil and rosemary. Don’t have rosemary? Use some other herbs, like herbes de Provence or oregano.
When you are ready with the toppings, take the hot tray out of the oven and slide slowly and carefully your pizza on top of the hot pan. Just be careful!
In the oven you should definitely put this on the lowest shelve there is directly on the bottom, this is the only way that the bottom will cook well and evenly. If not, the top will be cooked and burned and the bottom will be raw.
Here I would suggest you pay good attention to how you see it cooking on the top, when the rims of the pizza ar slightly golden brown, you would take it out! It might take about 10min but probably less so don’t go far!