The Great Bread Bake of 2015

Confession: I love fresh bread. All kinds. If you put a warm loaf of mysterious seed/flour source in front of me I will eat it with or without the presence of butter. I have tried several times to make my own bread and it usually turns into a dense, flat brick. I’ll eat it anyway, but it’s just not…right. I tried growing a sourdough starter a few months back and ended up pitching it because it just wouldn’t take off, baffling my bakery contacts. I can cook, I can bake, I cannot bake bread. Until now.

Yesterday I came across a recipe for no-knead bread from over at Frugal Living NW. Most recipes for bread I have used are no-knead because I figured my previous failed attempts were from overworking the dough. No-knead, no overworking. Those still failed. This recipe, however, called to let the dough rise for 12-18 hours and to bake it in a dutch oven. Holy mole-y. So I grabbed my four required ingredients (6 cups flour, 1/2 tsp yeast, little bit of salt, and 4/3 cup water can’t go wrong) following the recipe to a T, thinking to myself: self… this is a lot of dough, put plastic wrap on top of the bowl, and went about the rest of my day.

I made the dough in the biggest bowl I had. I’ve had dough bubble over on me before and this was a very wet mix so I didn’t want to deal with that mess. It was a very, very slow rise. At first I thought my old yeast had reached its end. Then again, there was very little yeast in the mix so maybe it was just supposed to rise slowly. When I started making dinner everything changed. You see, I have a very, very tiny kitchen. The only place to keep the XXL bowl of dough was on the counter beside the stove and when making spaghetti and eggplant balls (it was Meatless Monday so I got adventurous), the itty bitty kitchen heated up rather quickly. Within an hour the dough had TRIPLED in size and was threatening to escape the confines of its prison. By the end of dinner the dough had expanded to the point of touching the plastic wrap. I was nervous. This could get messy.

My boyfriend sent a quick text to our bread baking deity/his brother about whether or not it was ok to transplant some of the monster. Time ran out, though, and since there was still 12 hours left in the rise time (I thought it wouldn’t rise well enough in 12 hours knowing the track record of bread in this apartment. I was wrong) I made the executive decision to scoop out two heaping, string-y ladle-fulls out of the ooze and into my second biggest bowl, wrapping them both tightly with plastic wrap. Even though the apartment had cooled back down by now both bowls were pretty much back to capacity. I moved the containers onto a spot on the counter that was bare in hopes that if things went overboard at least the dough wouldn’t get stuck to anything.

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Shortly after scooping and the blue bowl dough had already doubled!

In the morning I peeked my head around the corner of the kitchen to see if there was a slimy mess waiting for me. Happily it looked like the dough calmed down overnight and stayed in the containers. It was still bubbling, though, so I crossed my fingers and hoped the bubbles would stay put and not leave me with another dense loaf. Then I remembered the size of my dutch oven: half the size of the one recommended in the recipe. Crap. I got overly excited from the prospect of fresh bread and a slew of rave reviews that I forgot to compare cooking vessel sizes. Suddenly: light bulb. I had a dutch oven, a crock pot from the early 70’s, and a glass loaf pan probably of the same era (why was everything amber/brown?). I could do a test to see which method was superior!

I took the smaller bowl, floured the edges, tucked them under, and flopped the sticky dough into the crock pot (after laying down some parchment paper first). The big bowl was up next. I didn’t trust a new dough enough to think that it would’ve all fit into the dutch oven without rising too much so I cut out a small chunk, haphazardly rolled in into a bun-shape-thing and flopped it into the bread pan. It didn’t fill it length-wise, but close enough.

The rest of the dough was floured, tucked under itself, and flopped into a piping hot dutch oven that had been sitting in the oven preheating at 425. In went the dutch oven and loaf pan and the crock pot was turned onto high. And then I waited.

The first loaf done was the little loaf at about 40 minutes. This was also when I took the lid off the dutch oven. Other than the loaf sticking for some reason this was a very pretty loaf. When it stopped crackling I cut it open and there were bubbles! SUCCESS! 10 minuets after taking the lid off the dutch oven I pulled the loaf out and tried shaking the loaf to get it loose, thinking it would also stick. Unnecessary, it slid right out with the slightest tilt. It’s so round and perfect and also quite vocal. Up until this point I’ve never had bread crackle like these loaves. Looking back I probably didn’t need to remove the chunk of dough for the loaf pan, but it makes for a good comparison. The crock pot was the slowest of the bunch as I took it out after an hour and 45 minutes. The top still seems pretty squishy but I figured that was from all of the dripping water from the lid.

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I may have already dug into the small loaf by this picture. No regrets. Bottom left: crock pot, bottom right: dutch oven, top: loaf pan.

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They all rose really well during baking; that’s a first for me!

Now for the test. This is the same recipe, same batch, so there’s no way that the samples could be biased or altered slightly to gain favour. The loaves are judged on the following categories: appearance, crust, and crumb. The ideal crust is crunchy but not impossible to tear while the crumb is to be light, airy, but neither dry nor damp. Appearance will be either a yay or nay as to whether I would serve it to company.

Loaf Pan

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The big chunk in the pan made me sad. Next time I might try preheating the pan along with the oven.

Crust: It’s so thin yet crunchy! The bottom was a little hard to cut, though, and may have been caused from trying too long to take it out of the pan.

Crumb: Hooooollleeesss. Light and airy? Check. Only slightly on the too moist side, probably from the giant hole on the bottom from my having to pry the loaf out of the pan. BUT I’d much rather have slightly too moist bread than soggy or dry as dust bread.

Appearance: I wish the loaf didn’t stick in one spot on the bottom. That caused me to use a butter knife to try to pry it out but a large chunk stayed on the pan. Had that not happened it would have been perfect.

And this is where I have to stop. I can’t justify cracking open two more loaves of bread for the sake of a taste test comparison. It isn’t remotely close to diet friendly, either. So I will update this post upon tasting the other loaves. Pending on what the boyfriend thinks of the first loaf that may be tonight!

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This is how bread should be. Thin, crunchy crust, with tonnes of holes which are then filled with butter.

Edit: Update – Dutch Oven Method

So today I cracked open the Dutch Oven loaf. This one didn’t have a hard crust on the bottom like the loaf pan one did and look!

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Holy bubbles, Batman!

Ain’t she a beaut? So score wise:

Crust: A+. This is 2 days after baking and being kept in the dutch oven it was able to keep a softer crust.

Crumb: Along the same lines as the loaf pan one – a little bit on the too moist side. I think I should’ve kept both loaves in the oven for another 10 minutes or so; I just got nervous about potentially burning them I guess. More, bigger holes though!

Appearance: Yes, this one is pretty inside and out. Definitely a would bake again and would serve to my bread guru.

I’ve left the crock pot one until the end because…well…it’s so soggy. Seriously, it was on the cooling rack the longest and there was condensation underneath it for hours even after wiping it up and moving it to another spot on the rack and counter. I dunno, maybe I didn’t make it right? This is my first attempt at both dutch oven and crock pot methods and I didn’t really look into the latter very much. I’m thinking the lid should’ve come off nearing the end of the bake only because it seems waaaay too wet. But, I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough!

 Update to end the updates!

Ok, the final loaf. I’m sorry but there isn’t much to report here. Keeping in mind the time between me baking the bread and me cracking open the crock pot loaf I knew it wouldn’t be a good result. Sure enough, I brought the loaf out of its protective cloth bindings only to see a large spot of mold on the bottom and a loaf that was a pound too heavy for its dimensions. The bread was hard and upon cracking it open the inside was as I feared: too gooey. The colour was too dark and had few large bubbles and I knew that the bread had dried out on the counter as opposed to actually being baked all the way through. Maybe crock pot loaves require a less-moist dough? That would certainly solve the excess condensation issue. I can’t see it being my crock pot not getting hot enough…it gets hot enough to boil water, feisty old machine that it is.

So there you have it, the dutch oven rules supreme. Now I have to figure out when I can whip up another mound of dough (half recipe this time, I’m learning) so I can have bread again.

Happy baking!

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