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Simple, inexpensive, tasty: How to make bread at home like a pro

Food writer Peter Kaminsky and Brooklyn-based chef Zachary Golper break down the art of making bread in their new book "Bien Cuit." (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON — When food writer Peter Kaminsky sinks his teeth into a perfect loaf of freshly baked bread, he expects “delight” and “surprise.”

“I think the key is flavor and texture,” says Kaminsky, who is the author of “Pig Perfect” and “The Elements of Taste,” among others.

One way to achieve both is through the unhurried process of fermentation. Baking the crust until it’s dark, but not burned, also helps reach that point of pastry perfection.

“What people can expect, I think, is not a white-bread experience. You’re going to get a big-flavor experience,” he says.

Biting into a loaf such as the one Kaminsky describes isn’t an adventure limited to the cafe tables inside the world’s best bakeries. It can happen at home — and his new book reveals how.

In “Bien Cuit,” Kaminsky teamed up with the Brooklyn-based chef and Bien Cuit bakery owner Zachary Golper to demystify the art of bread making for the everyday home cook.

Using simple ingredients, minimal equipment and a time-honored approach, Kaminsky and Golper prove that making bread at home can be hassle-free, inexpensive and delicious.

Not sure you’re ready to tie on an apron and bust out the rolling pin? Both Kaminsky and Golper say uncertainty is common among novice bakers — but they hope to change that.

Golper’s minimalist approach to bread making is rooted in traditions that date back centuries. He hand-mixes all of his dough (no expensive equipment required), uses natural ingredients that are easy to track down and bakes in a cast-iron Dutch oven.

“I think that as the information age explodes, people are having access to some of the knowledge that was available a long time ago,” Golper says. “A lot of what’s coming up is how these foods have been made for thousands of years, and so people are trying to jump back on that train to regain health.”

Think of yourself more as a “cook” and less as a “baker?” Kaminsky says this divide also keeps people from venturing into bread making.

“A lot of baking is waiting; a lot of cooking is hurrying along,” Kaminsky says.

Before he teamed up with Golper to write this book, Kaminsky says he thought of himself as a non-baker. Baking is a chemistry experiment, he says, and he was afraid that his experiment would fail.

However, Kaminsky says once you get over that initial hump, baking bread can be quick, easy and mess-free.

“That’s real important: It’s not a messy thing. We did it all in little New York kitchens, and we did fine,” he adds.

The recipes in “Bien Cuit” bounce between traditional and exploratory, covering everything from ciabatta to caramelized onion bread and even a 60-hour sourdough loaf.

Want to jump right in and get your hands sticky? The first recipe in the book is for a simple loaf, and it’s one that requires a minimal investment in time.

“So you don’t have to go through the nearly monthlong process to get your sourdough starter up and healthy. You can dive right into making really nice bread,” Golper says.


A Simple Loaf, from “Bien Cuit” 

Starter Ingredients:

  • 75 grams (1/2 cup + 2 tbsp) white rye flour
  • 50 grams (1/4 cup + 2 1/2 tbsp) dark rye flour
  • 1 gram (generous 1/4 tsp) instant yeast
  • 125 grams (1/2 cup + 1 tsp) water at about 60°F

Dough Ingredients:

  • 425 grams (3 cups + 2 1/2 tbsp) white flour, plus additional as needed for working with the dough
  • 75 grams (1/2 cup + 1 1/2 tsp) whole wheat flour
  • 15 grams (2 1/2 tsp) fine sea salt
  • 1 gram (generous 1/4 tsp) instant yeast
  • 365 grams (1 1/2 cups + 1 tsp) water at about 60°F

For the Starter:

Stir together the white and dark rye flours in a medium storage container. Sprinkle the yeast into the water, stir to mix, and pour over the flour. Mix with your fingers, pressing the mixture into the sides, bottom and corners until all of the flour is wet and fully incorporated. Cover the container and let sit at room temperature for 11 to 15 hours. The starter will be at its peak at around 13 hours.

For the Dough:

Stir together the white and whole wheat flours, salt and yeast in a medium bowl.

Pour about one-third of the water around the edges of the starter to release it from the sides of the container. Transfer the starter and water to an extra-large bowl along with the remaining water. Using a wooden spoon, break the starter up to distribute it in the water.

Add the flour mixture, reserving about one-sixth along the edge of the bowl. Continue to mix with the spoon until most of the dry ingredients have been combined with the starter mixture. Switch to a plastic bowl scraper and continue to mix until incorporated. At this point the dough will be sticky to the touch.

Push the dough to one side of the bowl. Roll and tuck the dough, adding the reserved flour mixture and a small amount of additional flour to the bowl and your hands as needed. Continue rolling and tucking until the dough feels stronger and begins to resist any further rolling, about 16 times. Then, with cupped hands, tuck the sides under toward the center. Place the dough, seam-side down, in a clean bowl, cover the top of the bowl with a clean kitchen towel, and let rest at room temperature for 45 minutes.

For the first stretch and fold, lightly dust the work surface and your hands with flour. Using the plastic bowl scraper, release the dough from the bowl and set it, seam-side down, on the work surface. Gently stretch it into a roughly rectangular shape. Fold the dough in thirds from top to bottom and then from left to right. With cupped hands, tuck the sides under toward the center. Place the dough in the bowl, seam-side down, cover the bowl with the towel and let rest for 45 minutes.

For the second stretch and fold, repeat the steps for the first stretch and fold, then return the dough to the bowl, cover with the towel and let rest for 45 minutes.

For the third and final stretch and fold, once again repeat the steps for the first stretch and fold, then return the dough to the bowl, cover with the towel and let rest for 20 minutes.

Line a 9-inch proofing basket or bowl with a clean kitchen towel and dust the towel fairly generously with the dusting mixture.

Lightly dust the work surface and your hands with flour and shape the dough into a round. Dust the sides and top of the dough with the dusting mixture, fold the edges of the towel over the top, and let rest at room temperature for one hour.

Transfer the basket to the refrigerator and chill for 14 to 18 hours.

Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Place a covered 6-quart (5.7 L), 10-inch (25 cm) round cast-iron Dutch oven on the rack. Preheat the oven to 500°F (260°C). Remove the basket of dough from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature while you allow the oven to preheat for about one hour.

Using heavy-duty oven mitts or potholders, remove the Dutch oven, place it on a heatproof surface and remove the lid.

Using the kitchen towel, lift and gently ease the dough out of the basket and onto a baking peel, seam-side down. Then carefully transfer it into the pot (the Dutch oven will be very hot). Score the top of the dough, cover the pot, and return it to the oven. Lower the oven temperature to 460°F (240°C) and bake for 30 minutes.

Rotate the Dutch oven and remove the lid. The loaf will already be a rich golden brown. Continue baking, uncovered, until the surface is a deep, rich brown, with some spots along the score being even slightly darker (bien cuit), about 20 minutes longer.

Loosen the edges of the loaf with a long handled spoon and then with the help of the spoon lift out of the pot onto a cooling rack. When the bottom of the loaf is tapped, it should sound hollow. If not, return it to the oven and bake directly on the rack for five minutes longer.

Let the bread cool completely before slicing and eating, at least four hours but preferably eight to 24 hours.

EXCERPTED FROM BIEN CUIT: THE ART OF BREAD BY ZACHARY GOLPER AND PETER KAMINSKY. COPYRIGHT © 2015 BY ZACHARY GOLPER. EXCERPTED WITH PERMISSION BY REGAN ARTS. 

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