Tuesday, September 24, 2013

No-Knead Artisan Bread

You, yes you, can make this bread.  I promise.  Doesn't it look just like something you would pay $8 for from an upscale artisan bakery?  I don't know about you, but I would be willing to pay $8 for this bread.  It's that good.  What if I told you that you could make this bread, all by yourself, for less than $1?  You will totally impress your friends and family with this beautiful bread and they will refuse to believe how easy it is!

It's true, my friends.  It can be done.  And guess what?  You don't even have to good at baking.  And you don't have to know how to knead bread.  And you don't need fancy mixers.  The recipe simply calls for 4 ingredients and a secret weapon - the humble Dutch Oven.  

What is a Dutch Oven?  Well, it's basically a big oven-proof dish with a lid.  Most are made from cast iron, but some are ceramic.  When I'm making this bread, I use my enameled cast iron Dutch Oven, but I've also used the Pyrex casserole dishes with lids.  If using the small Pyrex dishes, I divide the dough in half to make two loaves, instead of the one large loaf I make in the cast iron Dutch Oven.  Whatever you choose to use, make sure it can handle high heat (450 degrees) and that the lid fits well.  

Now, let me be perfectly honest here.  I hate it when I see recipes that say "So easy! So fast!" and then I read the instructions only to realize it's NOT easy or fast.  This recipe only requires about 5 minutes of hands-on time and is VERY easy, but there is a lot of planning ahead, waiting and setting timers.  This is a bread to bake while you are home for a good chunk of the day, at least 3 hours.   Also, the dough needs to be mixed/prepared at least 12 hours ahead of the baking time (24 hours is even better), so you'll have to do some planning ahead... which is not my strong suit.

Without further ado, here is the recipe, with instructions:

  • 4 cups of flour (I suggest you start with unbleached white flour.  Once you have made the loaf a few times, you can start replacing some white flour with whole wheat flour, if desired)
  • 2 cups of cold water
  • 2 tsp of kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp of yeast

1.  Mix all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon in a large lidded container.  Dough will be wet.  A big glass bowl with a plate as a lid works great too.  The lid does not have to be air tight (in fact, it should not be - the gases need to escape during fermentation).  Leave the loosely covered container/bowl of dough on the counter (not the fridge!) for 12-24 hours.  Go on with your business of living while the dough works it's magic.

2.  After 12-24 hours, pick a time when you'll be around the house for about 3 hours.  Got it?  Ok, now sprinkle some flour on a work surface.  I just use my counter as my work surface.

3.  Dump the dough out of the bowl onto the floured surface.  It will be a wet, sticky mess.  Sprinkle the dough with a little more flour and attempt to fold the dough in half a couple times, working the dough no more than about 10 seconds.  I like to use this plastic scraper I got at the dollar store to help me turn it over and get the sticky bits off the counter.  After folding it, cover the dough with a tea towel or flour sack towel and let it rest for 15 minutes.  Go putter around for a while.

4.  When the 15 minutes is up, take off the towel and lay it on the counter. Coat the same tea towel with flour or cornmeal (my preferred choice) to keep the dough from sticking.  Use more than you think you should.  Now gently gather up the dough in your hands and try to shape it into a ball.  Sprinkle with more flour if needed.  This should take no more than 10 seconds or so.  Don't overwork the dough. You'll end up with a ball with a smooth top, but wrinkly seam on the bottom.  Perfect.

5.   Now place the ball seam side down on the cornmeal coated towel.  Sprinkle more cornmeal or flour on top of the dough.

6.  Gently cover the dough and let it take a nap for 2 hours.  Maybe you could take a nap too...

7.  About 30 minutes before the 2 hour "nap" is over, you'll need to start preheating your oven to 450 degrees with the Dutch Oven inside it!  It is very important that both the oven and the Dutch Oven are hot.  When the 2 hour rest time is over, put on your oven mitts and pull out the extremely hot Dutch Oven and remove the lid.  Now comes the hardest part.  You will need to open the towel, carefully pick up the dough, still in the towel and flip it into the steaming hot Dutch Oven so the seam side is now facing up.  Do it quickly and confidently (even if you don't feel confident).  Even if it looks like a mess when you dump it it, it will still turn out delicious.  This one went in totally lopsided and still looked pretty good when it was done.

8.  Place the lid back on (with you oven mitts on!!!) and slide the Dutch Oven back into the oven.  Bake for 30 minutes.  After the 30 minutes is up, remove the lid and continue baking for 15 minutes.

9.  Ta-da!  Your bread is done.  Pull the Dutch Oven out and remove the loaf.  Allow the loaf to cool on a wire rack before slicing (yeah right...  I can never resist cutting off a little piece and slathering it with butter while it's still piping hot). Note:  This photo is not the same loaf as the photo above.  I made them on different days, in case you're wondering why they don't look the same!

10.  Admire your lovely loaf of bread and be amazed that you, yes YOU!, baked such a wonder.  Now go share it with your friends and teach THEM how to bake this bread!  Spread the love.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Summer Memories

I'm baaack!  Please forgive me for the nearly two month long blogging hiatus.  I know ya'll have been dying to know what I'm up to ;)

Turns out August and September were pretty busy months on the farm.  There were chickens to butcher for meat, tomatoes to can, cucumbers to be pickled, produce to process and freeze, eggs to be gathered (we have about 25 laying hens now), gardens to be weeded, berries to be picked, jam to be made, hogs to be fed, bee hives to be maintained... and then of course, children to care for, 3 meals a day to be cooked, laundry to be done, bills to be paid, paperwork to be filed, and houses to be cleaned (ummmm, may have slacked on that BIG time - I have the whole winter to clean my house, right?!?).  

Despite the busyness, I can truly say I'm having SO. MUCH. FUN.  There is nothing more satisfying and rewarding than a day of hard labor, which results in filling your pantry and freezer with nourishing foods for your family.  The morning chores of caring for the animals are a delight, watching content chickens peck and scratch, listening to hogs grunting out their greetings, goats calling out in delight when they see you and adorable kittens purring as they rub up against your feet. Walking through the garden glistening with dew in the morning light fills my heart with gratitude. I feel so blessed to start my day in this manner, feeling in tune with God's natural rhythms, savoring the quiet moments before the work begins.  So, yes, I'm busy and sometimes feel utterly overwhelmed by the tasks on my "To-Do List", but it is the best kind of "busy" possible.  

So let me give you a little tour of what we have been up to lately.  And lest you think we live a perfect carefree life, I want you to be reminded of what I didn't include in the photos - kids throwing fits, piles of dirty dishes and clothes, filthy rooms, piles of bills to paid and papers to be filed... you know, all those things that make life real.  But I figure, in the end, we usually remember the good times the best, so here are some photos of our "good times".   Enjoy!

Goats grazing in the pasture.  Yes, sometimes they kneel while they eat.  Yes, it looks funny.

My son hanging with the goats.  They are so gentle with the children.  

Maaahhhh!  The goats run up to the gate for attention every time they see us.  See all the trucks in the background?  We're getting new neighbors!

I like hogs.  They are delightful creatures.


Beehives facing the squash fields planted by our neighbor.

Kids helping us paint the beehives.

Freedom Ranger meat birds, ready to be butchered.  We butchered them in late July and filled our freezer with 25 delicious pastured chicken, supplemented with Organic feed.  We kept them in a movable chicken tractor (cage on wheels that is moved to fresh grass each day), to keep them safe from predators.

Blackberry harvest from the nearby woods.

Lucy the barn cat

"Tristar" Ever-bearing strawberries (they set fruit all summer, instead of one harvest, like the June-bearing strawberries).  We harvest a bowl of strawberries every few days, all summer long.   We're still picking berries in late September!

Veggies fresh from our garden!  We have veggie platters like this for dinner most nights.

Just had to share this one.  Our kids were introduced to the "Star Wars" movies and then their uncle sent them some "light sabers", which led to many days of playing "Jedi Warriors".  So cute!

Tomatoes.  Lots and lots of tomatoes.  I planted about 60 tomato plants and had to figure out what to do with all that fruit!

Lovely "Purple of Sicily" cauliflower.  I also planted lots of white cauliflower, but not a single plant formed a head.  Every one of the purple plants did great!  Next year, I'll only plant "Purple of Sicily".

Calico Beauty (my son wanted to name her Calico and my daughter wanted to name her Beauty) might quite possibly be the sweetest kitten ever.  I have a feeling we may turn her into our resident house cat...

The young laying hens are finally starting to lay eggs.  Ummm.... sometimes they are a little small at first....

My daughter with Lucy.

Peppers from the garden.  I chop and freeze them on a cookie sheet.  Then they are thrown into a container in the freezer, so I can pull out a handful as needed over the winter.  I love all the bright colors - looks like confetti!  

When I'm overwhelmed with tomatoes, I cut out the core, freeze the tomatoes on cookie sheets and then place them in freezer bags when they are frozen solid.  When I have more time in the winter, I can turn these tomatoes into soup or sauce.

Canning tomatoes.  Peeling skins off tomatoes is the perfect job for a 4 year old.

We plant LOTS of flowers in the vegetable garden each year, for two reasons: 1.  To feed the honeybees, and attract pollinators and beneficial insects to the garden.  2.  My daughter loves picking flowers and making fresh bouquets for the house.

Lest you think we are "all work and no play"....  We took a vacation with my parents at a cottage on Lake Michigan in August.   Nothing like waking up to the water each morning....

Loving the lake

Tubing is awesome!

Celebrating our Dutch heritage at Dutch Village in Holland, MI.

More fun at Dutch Village!

That's it for now, folks!  I'll try to hard to not be such a stranger...