Bread was the first thing I ever made from scratch that felt kind of fancy to me. I had been doing virtually all of my own cooking since my early teens or thereabouts, and my youthful fondness for Cooking Light magazine had given me a good range of basic kitchen skills and exposed me to a variety of foods I had never tried before I started cooking. I ate pretty well for several years almost exclusively due to that magazine, but I still thought of myself as a beginner. An adventurous beginner, but I felt like there was some divide between the way I was cooking and…something else. The first thing that reached out to me from what I thought of as the other side — the “real cooking” side, the schmancy side — was a baguette.
I don’t remember exactly why I wanted to make bread. Probably just how elaborate it all seemed. Sometimes I really like elaborate. I had a vague notion that making bread meant 17 hours of your day and also probably some kind of magic. I started the way I start virtually everything I do, by googling and reading recipes until my eyes hurt but I felt I had internalized a good amount of bread knowledge. Then I did the whole deal — proofing the yeast, kneading and kneading and kneading, covering, waiting, punching (punching! such a small part of the process, but so my favorite) the dough down, waiting, rolling, slashing, tossing the water in the oven at the last second and trying to avoid the steam burns — and I smelled like toast after. While it wasn’t quite 17 hours, that first attempt did take the better part of a day. It gave me 3 whole baguettes, and I didn’t share them with anyone.
I was definitely hooked. I made bread a lot after that, and eventually it became pretty normal to me. I’ve gone long stretches of my life since then where every Friday night dinner is Marcella Hazan’s Roast Chicken with Lemons and a loaf of bread. I developed enough of a feel for how it should all work that I got to the point where I didn’t need a recipe or to watch the time while I was kneading (it’s less about magic, more watching for the moment the dough doesn’t stick to your hands anymore). I’ve tried bread machines and no-knead breads and expanded to pizza dough and cinnamon rolls. The last few years, with all our small-oven (and then no-oven) woes, my bread making has mostly been for pizza. Last week’s dairy experiments were just what I needed to push me back into actual loaves of bread.
Rather than go all the way back to my roots and do the whole deal — kneading, punching, etc. — I went back to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which is absolutely one of my favorite cookbooks ever. It’s such a simple technique that I think it’s a great introduction for someone new to making bread and also just plain relaxing to someone used to making it the other way. I love that I do the prep work once and get bread for several days. And I thought it would be perfect for this week, because I have quite a bit of whey left over from making ricotta last week, which I really want to bake with, and this week’s recipe left me with a pound of herb cheese spread (I know I said I was gonna scale it down; I did not scale it down), so I’m going to need a ready supply of bread every day for the near future.
Can we take a sec to appreciate the color of whey? I’ve made fresh cheese before and let whey go down the sink, so I didn’t realize. It’s the color of lemon-lime Gatorade and I think that’s fantastic.
So, for once I didn’t google a thing and just assumed that to replace water with whey in this recipe it would be a 1:1 ratio. I can’t tell you if I’m exactly right about that, but the dough turned out just like it usually does for me, so I guess I was on the right track.
(You need a big bowl for this recipe. Halloween Candy Bowl is our largest bowl, so it spends most of its life as 5 Minute Bread Bowl instead.)
I made my first loaf straight after the initial rise (the book recommends refrigerating it for a few hours first so it’s easier to work with), so it was a little squishy, but I couldn’t wait.
I don’t have a pizza stone anymore, but I do have a cast-iron skillet, which can also sit in the oven while it heats up and turned out to make quite a nice substitute. I’ve never tried this method before, but at least after this first try I am not missing the pizza stone.
We ate this immediately with beef stew last night, then with butter and jam for breakfast today, and then again with some of that herb spread for lunch.
And with that, I am out of bread, and I have just enough time to make some more before dinner.
More details on the herb spread next time, though; I need to tell you about the pound of cream cheese and the three cloves of garlic.