Thursday, April 14, 2011

Baking Bread for Comfort

Here in Minnesota we have had a very long winter...and when it's April 14th and still have snow in the forecast for the weekend, it's time to fire up the oven and bake some bread.  Carbs, schmarbs, I just want some comfort from the warmth of the oven!  In the interest in sharing the therapeutic qualities of baking bread, I mixed up a big batch of dough to bake some tasty Fennel Currant and Walnut bread for my photo crew this week at Fusebox studio.  Even those who were convinced they would never be able to bake bread because it sounds too complicated were converted.  The smell of bread warm from the oven is very convincing!  I started with inspiration from Zoe Francois' and Jeff Hertzberg's book 'Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day' , which is a wonderful book, and also am singing the praises of their second book 'Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day'.  So, with those books as a creative spring board, here is the recipe I created for our studio snack....

Fennel Currant and Walnut Bread
Makes about 4 loaves

3 cups lukewarm water
1 -1/2 Tablespoons active dry yeast
1- 1/2 Tablespoons Kosher salt
4 -1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup semolina flour
1 -1/2 Tablespoons whole fennel seeds
1 cup dried currants
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
In a large mixing bowl mix the water with the yeast and salt.  Stir until dissolved.  Mix the flours together in a large bowl.  Using a wooden spoon or a dough hook, if using an electric mixer, stir in the flour, adding quickly and mix until almost all the flour is wet.  Add the fennel, currants and walnuts and continue to stir just until dough is mixed.  Do not knead.  Cover the bowl of dough with a plate, making sure that it's not too tightly sealed.  Allow the dough to rise for 2 hours.  At this point, you can shape some of the dough and bake it, or just put the dough in the refrigerator and it can be stored refrigerated for up to two weeks.  With generously floured hands scoop up a ball of dough about the size of a grapefruit.  Shape it into a smooth ball, sealing the dough on the bottom of the ball and allow to proof on a semolina flour covered pizza peel or cutting board.  Cover the shaped dough with a towel or a bowl and allow to proof for 40 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and preheat a pizza stone placed on the center oven rack, and a baking sheet or broiler pan on the oven rack below it.  Allow the pizza stone and broiler pan to heat with the oven for at least 15 minutes.  When the dough is proofed, use a sharp knife or razor blade to make slashes in the top of the crust.  Shake the dough off of the pizza peel gently onto the heated pizza stone and add 1/2 cup water to the heated pan below.  Bake the bread for about 45-50 minutes.  Take the bread out of the oven and allow to cool at least 15 minutes before cutting into it.  I know it's hard to wait, but the bread won't slice as well, so just be patient!
Enjoy everyone!  And thanks for the inspiration, Zoe and Jeff!