Country Crust Bread

This is the first bread I ever learned to make.  I was in college, and living in an 8-plex with a roommate in one of the 2 bedroom units.  University of Nevada, Reno, was right across the street, so it’s a wonder how very infrequently I went to class.

Because Kim and I were the first to move into the complex, and because we were excited to be out of our respective parents’ homes, we greeted everyone who moved in and soon knew the medical student upstairs and her husband and two kids and the enormous black Labrador they did not own because it was a no-pets building.  Then Ramana, head of the engineering school, who did not own fish, and Valerie, who taught preschool and did not have a cat, and Ray, who was going to be a dentist and didn’t have a love bird, and Jack, whose apartment I took when he and the marijuana plants he did not own moved away.  At that point Ray gave me the love bird and went on to not really own an African Gray Parrot and John and Barbara downstairs did not own an awful lot of marijuana they were selling.  At some point there was also Eric, the football player, who had a lot of different girlfriends, some of whom met each other unexpectedly and with explosive results.

I learned in that complex that college boys would eat anything, especially fresh, hot bread.  This one (and the cheese bread I posted some time ago) were both very popular.

I haven’t made this simple white bread in forever.  It’s an easy bread, a user friendly recipe that creates a bouncy, soft, elastic dough.  Brush the top of the finished loaves with a big slab of butter, letting it drip onto something easily cleanable or disposable like wax paper (trust me, you want to remember to put something under the wire rack…) and it’s wonderful as is, or for sandwiches, or with a roast cooked with all the trimmings, or at Thanksgiving dinner if you can convince your significant other to not have cheese bread instead (I cannot….)

Country Crust Bread

2 cups hot water in a large mixing bowl

2 packages active dry yeast (or 2 yeast spoonsful or 4 ½ teaspoons)

½ cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon sea salt

2 eggs

¼ cup canola oil (or salad oil of choice)

6 to 6 ½ cups unbleached flour

Softened salted butter

 

2 9x5x3 loaf pans, greased

Dissolve the yeast in the water in the big mixing bowl.  Stir in the salt, sugar, oil, 2 eggs and mix well.  Add in the flour, one cup at a time, until the dough is not shiny sticky wet and can be lifted as one big elastic-y handful onto a floured work surface.IMG_6176

Knead in as much flour as needed to make the dough elastic and just short of wet.  If it can just barely accept more flour, but isn’t sticking in big clumps to your fingers, that’s a good place to be.  Evening, mid-80s, early August, 5000 feet, it took 6 and ¼ cups today.

Transfer into a large mixing bowl and cover with a clean dishtowel.  Leave in a warm place to rise until double, probably an hour (under summer high altitude conditions, mine was ready in 35 minutes.

 

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Size when set to rise. In 35 minutes of August heat, it filled this huge glass bowl.

 

Punch dough back down and form into loaves for 2 normal sized loaf pans.  The directions say to roll out the dough into a 18×9 inch rectangle, then roll up from long side to long side, tucking the ends under to form a loaf.  I used to do that responsibly but since learned that if I just shape it into a ball, then keep running my hands from the top to under the sides to make a long oval with the seam on the bottom, then allow it to rise, the bread takes on loaf shape anyway by virtue of filling the pan.  I never liked all the rolling, measuring and tucking.

Allow to rise as loaves until double, about an hour in normal places, I think, or 20 minutes at 5,000 feet in August.  Brush both loaves with canola or salad oil.  I think you can do this right before putting them in the oven, but brushing them before leaving them to rise keeps the surface from becoming at all dried out.

 

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This rise took 20 minutes.  Even at 5000 feet, that’s fast!

 

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until tops are golden brown and the bottoms sound hollow when tapped. Gently release the breads from the pans and cool on a wire rack.  When they’ve been out of the oven 15 or 20 minutes but are still warm, place the rack over waxed or parchment paper, or a baking tray, to catch drips.  Run a pat of salted butter over the crust.

 

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Fragrant and lovely.

 

This bread is great warm with butter (or jam or peanut butter or honey or almost anything) but let it cool at least 20 to 30 minutes or the crumb will crush down and the bread will seem undercooked, too wet in the middle (almost like clay, you can form shapes out of it – this will stop as it cools).

Once cool this bread has an open, easy crumb, and the loaves will last a couple days at room temperature.  If you have bread storage bags, you’re more prepared than I am – I use a gallon-sized zipper baggie and leave one end open – sealing up fresh bread tightly in plastic makes it sweat, leaving you with soggy or dried out and stale bread.  (Though in that case, there’s always bread pudding or French toast.)

If you try it, let me know what you think!

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Floury Baps

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Floury baps evolved over time for me.  There are so many recipes to make and so many variations on the same item – like the baps – there has to be something special to make me go back and try something a second time.

The first time I made baps I used a recipe from one of my favorite bread books.  Despite that, it didn’t turn out to be my favorite recipe for them.  They were dry and too floury – kind of grainy, definitely blah.

But I really wanted them to turn out.  I wanted to split them in half and load in a fried egg and some bacon and despite the similarity to certain fast food breakfast treats, this actually turned out when I used the second recipe – from Ultimate Bread by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno (1998, a DK Publishing Book).  My variations are minor, meant to reflect the dryness of the desert and the speeded-up rising and baking times of 5000 feet.

The second time I tried these was about a week into May. The Sierra still wore a considerable amount of snow.  Which wouldn’t be noteworthy, except this past Monday the foothills at the end of my street were covered once again in snow.  On June 12. Today the North Valleys will hit 88 degrees.

I love my desert.

As for the baps, apparently they’re meant to be slathered in jam, or opened and filled with cream.  I can see filling them with clotted or whipped cream and fresh, lightly sugared berries, too, though I haven’t tried that yet.

But the fried egg and bacon version was excellent.  So was baking them with grated cheddar inside.  So was loading one with a slice of cooked sausage (the kind that comes in a roll, ready to slice and cook) and a little cheese.

Baps aren’t all that sweet, so I’m not sure why they couldn’t be stuffed with a mix of lentils, corn and salsa, or be used as a sandwich wrap, or be filled with sliced black olives and tomatoes and sprinkled with oregano, other than the fact that might be messy as the filling spills back out.

¾ cup warm water

¾ cup room temperature milk + more for glaze

2 teaspoons active dry yeast (not rapid rise)

1 teaspoon sugar

3 ½ cups unbleached flour

1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt

Combine the milk and water in a measuring cup.  Pour one half of the liquid into a smaller bowl.  Sprinkle yeast and sugar over top and let stand for 5 minutes.

Mix 2 ½ cups of the flour and all the salt in a large bowl.  Form a well in the center and pour in the mixed liquid, sugar and yeast.  Draw in as much flour as necessary to form a sticky dough.  Stir in remaining liquid as needed.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board.  I use part of the reserved 1 cup flour for dusting the board and kneading into the bread.  When I’m kneading and the dough stops pulling the flour from the board and my hands, it’s time to slow down adding more.  I’ve found while baking yeast breads in the desert that my best loaves come about from doughs that still cling just a little damply to my hands.  Still the soft rounded look of the dough, and they’re not leaving sticky patches or pulling off, but just slightly tacky or damp.

Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes, as long as it feels elastic and smooth.

Leave the dough in a clean bowl covered with a clean dish towel.  Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, roughly 45 minutes at 5000 feet.

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When the dough has risen, punch it down and allow it to rest on the board for 10 minutes, then separate into 8 pieces.  Gently form into soft ovals and flatten slightly with your hand as you put them on a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Brush with milk and give each a heavy sifting of flour.  Allow to rise, uncovered, for 30 to 45 minutes or until doubled in size.  Mine took a really long time to rise, but that was subjective and because I forgot them – I was making devil’s food cupcakes and an olive thyme baguette at the same time.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Dust with flour again, then bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly golden.  When first out of the oven, cover the baps on the tray with a clean dish towel for 10 minutes.  Then remove towel and move baps to a wire rack.

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Olive Thyme Baguette

I could live on bread and cheese.  With apples and grapes thrown in. During the summer, the hottest weather (my favorite time of year, the hotter the better) that’s what I eat a lot of the time – some kind of bread, cheese sometimes, grapes and apples, water with ice and maybe some lemon.  Sourdoughs are my favorite breads, but I’m still learning how to make an actually sour sourdough (I’ve used all kinds of starters and made good breads – they’re just not sour).

Several years ago I found a recipe for an olive bread that was made in a ring shape and may or may not have had thyme in it.  I can’t remember.  What I do remember is that it sounded heavenly and I made it several times before giving up.  The bread refused to rise.  Sometimes it refused to cook.  There’s something impressive about dough that refuses to finish in an over that’s over 400 degrees – how can it just refuse to bake? How is that even possible?

When I got tired of playing with the recipe and was still longing for something like it, I played around and developed this one.  It’s never failed me and offers up a substitution of a rosemary bread without olives if you choose.  The rosemary bread is good toasted, or not toasted and with butter, or without butter but with cheese.  The olive bread is fantastic just the way it is.

2 cups all purpose flour + ½ cup reserved

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 package yeast (not rapid rise)

1 cup very warm water

1 cup chopped or sliced Kalamata olives, drained (black olives are also good)

Several sprigs of fresh thyme

In a large bowl, combine 2 cups flour with sugar, salt and yeast.  Mix together and make a well in the center.

Stir in the cup of warm water, mixing with a wooden spoon until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl and clings to itself in a sticky loaf.

Turn out onto a floured board – I use the reserved flour to flour the board in order to measure how much flour I’m adding to the dough.  Knead for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how the dough feels, and add flour by judicious handfuls if the dough is too sticky.  Dough should be just damp enough to stick to the fingers but go back to itself rather than sticking in chunks to your hands.  If it seems to be getting to dry, just keep kneading on one of the less floury sections of board – it should absorb the extra flour and become supple and smooth again.

Place dough in a clean, greased bowl and spin it so all sides are greased.  Cover with a clean dish towel or plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm place.  First rise will take approximately 45 minutes at high altitude.

When dough is doubled in size, move it to a scraped and re-floured board and gently punch it down.  Let rest for 10 minutes.

Shape the dough into an oval, patting it to about 3/4 –inch thickness with your fingers.  Cover the surface with the chopped olives the way you’d cover dough for cinnamon buns.  Snip the thyme leaves or pull them from the stems, dropping them along the olives.

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Roll up to form a long baguette, tucking the ends under.  This can rise on a baguette pan, which are usually perforated to allow heat to get through at all angles and create a lovely crunchy crust, or on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, preferably without sides.  Allow to rise until double.

Bake at 425 25 to 30 minutes.  Check the loaf at 20 minutes and cover if it’s browning too fast.  Spraying the loaf or the oven with water when the loaf first goes in will create a crispier crust (avoid the lightbulb at all costs – I once made one explode doing this and had to start all over after cooling the oven and cleaning out all the broken glass).  Or brush the loaf with a whipped egg white.

The rosemary alternative substitutes finely chopped rosemary leaves for thyme and leaves out the olives.  It bakes the same, though almost always has an egg white glaze and some rosemary leaves (or are they called needles?) decoratively arranged.  The rosemary version is wonderful with barbecued or lemon-stuffed chicken.

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