Anyhow, I've been on a tomato sauce kick of late and it's been brought on by my frantic attempts to keep up with the truckloads of tomatoes that've been ripening over the last few weeks. Who knew that five tomato plants could crank out this much fruit?
So last night at about five I decided I would make spaghetti for supper. I'd made the sauce earlier but pasta's not pasta without fresh bread but it was already late so what to do?
I decided to consult my kitchen oracle, Mark Bittman from The Times to see if he had any down and dirty (and fast) bread recipes. I found one for Fast French Bread.
Admittedly, I was skeptical when I read that someone could make real bread in two hours. I've been baking bread for years and it's always a process that takes me at least two days to complete. Why two days? To let the yeast do its thing and yield a loaf that tastes like bread, that's why. I had a feeling that rushing this would leave me with something that tasted like Wonderbread and I was right, but at least it was bread.
Here's Bittman's recipe:
Fast French Bread or Rolls
Makes: 3 or 4 baguettes, 1 boule, or 12 to 16 rolls
Time: About 2 hours, largely unattended
This bread can be made by hand or with an electric mixer, but the food processor is the tool of choice and will save you tons of time. Recipe from How to Cook Everything.
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more as needed
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1. Put the flour in a food processor. Add the salt and yeast and turn the machine on; with the machine running, pour about a cup of water through the feed tube. Process until the dough forms a ball, adding a tablespoon more water at a time until it becomes smooth; if the dough begins sticking to the side of the bowl, you’ve added too much water. No harm done: add 1/4 cup or so of flour and keep going. You’re looking for a moist, slightly shaggy but well-defined ball. The whole process should take about 30 seconds, and it will once you get good at it. If the dough is too dry, add water 1 tablespoon at a time and process for 5 or 10 seconds after each addition. If it becomes too wet, add another tablespoon or two of flour and process briefly.
2. Dump the lump of dough into a large bowl or simply remove the blade from the processor bowl and leave the dough in there. Either way, cover with a plastic bag or plastic wrap and let sit for at least an hour at room temperature.
3. Use a small strainer or your fingers to dust a little flour onto a counter or tabletop. Shape the dough as you like, into small loaves, one big one, baguettes, or rolls, sprinkling with flour as necessary but keeping the flour to a minimum. Heat the oven (with a pizza stone and/or a pan filled with rocks if you have them) to 400°F while you let the breads or rolls rise, in a cloth if you like, covered with a towel.
4. When you are ready to bake, slash the top of each loaf once or twice with a razor blade or sharp knife. If the dough has risen on a cloth, slide or turn it onto floured baking sheets or gently move it onto a lightly floured peel, plank of wood, or flexible cutting board, then slide the bread directly onto a pizza stone. Or you can bake on lightly oiled baking sheets. Turn the heat down to 375°F.
5. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the internal temperature of the bread is at least 210°F (it can be lower if you plan to reheat the bread later) or the loaves sound hollow when tapped. Remove, spray with a bit of water if you would like a shinier crust, and cool on a wire rack.
So I started with Bittman's recipe and changed around a couple of things as I flew through it. His instructions call for using a food processor and as I thought this through it made some kind of sense. A food processor used the way he did would incorporate all of the ingredients quickly but I was concerned that it wouldn't work the dough enough to get the gluten to form the correct structure.
When I pulled my dough out of the food processor it didn't feel right so I floured up my breadboard and kneaded it until it did. if you're new to bread baking, the whole idea of properly kneading bread until it "feels right" is maddening, or at least it was for me. Save yourself a whole lot of trouble if you're new at this and ask someone who does bake to have you over the next time he bakes bread so you can learn in person how to knead. Of course I never did this and was left to curse the darkness for about six months until I figured it out.
So after I'd kneaded it, I turned the dough into an oiled bowl and covered it with a wet dishcloth. An hour later I formed my loaves, sprayed them with oil instead of water and salted them because I didn't think the recipe called for enough salt.
They turned out passibly though I don't think they made a convert out of me. It's true the bread was done in less than two hours and unfortunately it tasted like it. There wasn't any real depth or nuance but since I was using it later to sop up tomato sauce it didn't really matter a whole lot.
The texture was OK and again I think I salvaged that with a good knead. I wonder how this would have turned out had I followed the instructions as written. The world may never know.
But at the end of the day I baked bread from scratch on a weeknight and proved that it's possible I suppose. It also gave me another excuse to beat with my shoe the next person I hear rationalize a poor diet of convenience foods with the excuse that he's has no time to cook.
So give this one a try sometime, you have nothing to lose. The best part of being a baker is that even mistakes taste good.