My mom loves to bake and she taught me to love it too. I'm so grateful to her for showing me techniques like cutting in butter for pastry or kneading dough for bread. It never occurred to me to be afraid of these things. I grew up in the kitchen by my mom's side, if not actively participating, then observing (and tasting) and at least getting familiar with the more involved aspects of baking. I'm pretty sure I was first introduced to the magic of yeast in the form of Butterhorn Crescents, which are a staple at our house every Thanksgiving. I'll be sure to share that recipe with you, but first, let me introduce you to the bread I'm convinced you'll want to have around this fall for all those soups we're going to make together.
The first thing I want you to remember is that yeast is your friend. It does all the work for you. All you need to do is give it the right environment and the necessary amount of time to do its thing. The picture above is a shot of the first stage of this recipe. It's a type of pre-ferment that gets the yeast started with a mixture of flour and water and will be incorporated into the dough in a bit. For a more in-depth explanation of this technique (and amazing bread recipes) I highly recommend The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. This particular recipe is a little unique because it calls for a mixture of all-purpose flour and semolina flour, the same flour used to make pasta. The texture is almost creamy; pleasantly dense and chewy and the perfect bread for snacking, because it's flavored with rosemary and sesame seeds and sea salt. It could be my favorite combination ever.
The next step is to knead the dough. It's for less than ten minutes. You can do it, I promise. And yes, I suppose you could use a mixer to knead, or maybe even a bread machine, but then you would miss the sensory pleasure of smelling the rosemary and the yeasty puffs that come away from the dough every time you push it over the counter. You wouldn't get to feel the dough getting silkier and smoother and elastic in your hands. (This recipe is made entirely by hand, by the way. I like the rustic feel of it and I wouldn't change a thing.) And then there's the knowledge that you made this thing. You created it on your own from a pile of flour and water and it's going to be very, very good. Just wait until you put it in the oven. You might swoon.
The hard part of baking bread is waiting. But it's worth every minute.
And now we shape. I love all the different shapes and sizes bread can come in. This isn't hard either, actually. Most of the recipes I've seen simply involve geometric shapes like rectangles, circles and triangles. I've made a braided bread that was amazing, delicious, and most importantly, looked like it took a lot of effort to make, but didn't. Those are the good recipes. That one will be featured here, too.
See? Simple shapes. And my seam is nowhere near underneath the loaf like the recipe says, but it came out delicious anyway. Bread is our friend, people. It's hard to mess up.
The only special tool that I had to go out to buy was a little spray bottle. I highly recommend this. As you coat the bread with a mist of water, it develops a chewy, crusty outer shell that you can't get any other way. And you'll feel like a professional baker without the early morning hours.
So now all you have to do is slice and enjoy with your favorite cheese and revel in the praise of family and friends who are jealous of your baking talent. All you need is a little patience and a really good recipe.
Rosemary-Semolina Round with Sesame and Sea Salt
Makes 1 loaf
1 3/4 c. warm water ( 105-115 degrees), divided
1 T. active dry yeast ( measured from 2 envelopes)
2 1/4 c. (about) all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
2 t. minced rosemary
2 1/2 c. semolina flour
2 t. fine-grained sea salt
Additional semolina flour
1 T. sesame seeds, divided
1 t. coarse-grained sea salt
Place 1 1/4c. warm water in medium bowl; sprinkle yeast over and stir to blend. Let stand 5 minutes to soften. Whisk to dissolve yeast. Add 1 1/4 c. all purpose flour; whisk until smooth. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature (about 75 degrees) until bubbles form and yeast mixture has more than doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.
Whisk remaining 1/2 c. warm water, olive oil and rosemary in large bowl to blend. Using rubber spatula, mix in semolina flour and 2 t. fine-grained sea salt (dough will be very dry). Stir in yeast mixture. Work in 3/4 c. all purpose flour. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth, adding more all purpose flour by tablespoons if sticky. Let rest 5 minutes. Knead until dough springs back when pressed with thumb, about 8 minutes.
Lightly oil large bowl. Transfer dough to bowl; turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Transfer dough to lightly floured surface. Flatten dough into 18x12" rectangle. Starting from one long side, roll tightly to form 2 1/2"-diameter, 20"- long log. With seam side down, shape log into ring, inserting 1 end into second end; smooth seam.
Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Sprinkle sheet with additional semolina flour. Transfer dough ring to prepared sheet, reshaping as needed to form smooth circle. Sprinkle with 1 1/2 t. sesame seeds, pressing lightly to adhere. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let bread rise at room temperature until almost doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove plastic wrap from bread. Using sharp knife, cut 1/4-inch-deep slit all the way around top of loaf. Spray bread lightly with water. Sprinkle with 1 1/2 t. sesame seeds and 1 t. coarse sea salt. Transfer to oven. Bake bread 15 minutes, spraying lightly with water every 5 minutes. Continue to bake without spraying until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom, about 30 minutes longer. Transfer bread to rack and cool completely.