My go-to slow&easy bread recipe

Imma start with a disclaimer:  I reviewed  “no-knead bread” recipes from my cookbook collection & the interwebs, noted the elements they had in common, and came up with this recipe designed for minimum work. There are MANY similar recipes with lots of excellent pictures & far more interesting backstories, and they’re all adaptable. I encourage you to explore them like I did.

(This wouldn’t be my blog if it didn’t immediately wander into a digression, right?)

I’ll put a couple of my favorite recipe variations at the bottom of the post.

NECESSARY INGREDIENTS

Dry components:

3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon or more instant/bread machine yeast.
1/2 teaspoon salt

Wet components:

1 1/2 cups liquid

-The liquid can be water, milk, honey, fats like oil or melted butter or any combination of them…be as creative as you like. As long as the total liquid component is 1.5 cups, the recipe ALWAYS works out for me.
-Yes, that’s the same as 12 oz for those of you thinking, “Beer bread?”

INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Mix or sift together dry ingredients in a Big Bowl
  2. Add the liquid, stir until it’s fully combined into a dough.
    How do you know it’s combined? It’s not sticking to the bowl & there’s no dry flour sitting in the bottom.  I see the word “shaggy” used in a lot of recipes. Whatever.
  3. Let rest 12-24 hrs. I usually go a full day, because my house is cool & the rise is slow.
    AFTER THE RISE
  4. Shape into rolls or into a round loaf or whatever combo of rolls & loaves you want.
  5. Grease appropriate baking dishes or line with parchment.  I like oil spray. It’s easy.
  6. Let dough rise again in the baking dish(es) 1 to 4 hours.
    Using the fancy proofer setting on my fancy new oven, they’re usually re-inflated & ready to rock after an hour.
  7. PREHEAT oven to 400 degrees. Yes, pre-heating matters for this.
  8. Bake at 400 degrees for 25-45 minutes depending on loaf/roll size.
    I use a thermometer to test doneness because I always overcook if I do it by eye.
    Internal temp of 200+ degrees F = done.

That’s it. Mix, wait, shape, wait, bake. One bowl, no mess on the counter, no “proving” the yeast, no specific kneading steps, no fuss.

AND NOW THE RANDOM EXTRA REMARKS

SCIENCE TIP 1: temperature of the liquid isn’t critical–BUT NOT OVER 115 degrees F, that will kill the yeast. The dough will take longer to rise if it starts cold. As long as the room is over 68-70 degrees, it will rise overnight. The warmer the room is, the faster it will rise. The more yeast you use, the faster it’ll rise. Want quicker yeast bread?  put in 2-3 tsp of yeast instead of 1/2 tsp. Be warned, though, the dough may not be as easy to handle.

SCIENCE TIP 2: Of COURSE you can use regular dried yeast instead of instant/bread machine — but do get it bubbling in a bit of warm water first unless you want to wait even LONGER for the rising, and obviously add it with the liquid.

SCIENCE TIP 3: In one of those little heads-cratchers of baking science, the more sugar you add to a recipe, the longer/more unpredictable the rise time. (the phenomenon is well known to watchers of the Great British Bake off, where it was the bane of many a baker.)

SCIENCE TIP 4: less/zero fat = crustier bread with chewier texture & more open structure. more fat = softer bread & longer before it goes hard & stale.  I almost always end up using a couple of tbsps of fat in my liquid component. But I never make the liquid all fat. Because ye gobs, that would be greasy bread.

PROCEDURAL REMARK 1: Toss a bit of flour on top of the dough in the bowl before you start to make it easier to handle. Or keep your hands wet. Either works.

PROCEDURAL REMARK 2:  to get a batch of exactly same-sized rolls, first divide the dough in THIRDS, then divide each third in half, then each of those halves in half. You end up with 12 nice, even pieces.

PROCEDURAL REMARK 3: I’m not getting into details of how to “properly” shape bread or what kind of pan makes the “best” bread. It’s too dependent on what result you want, and this dough is super-forgiving. Squish, pull, roll, tug, whatever makes you happy, until it’s in the & sizes shapes you want. And cook it in whatever you have handy.
I use an 13×9 pan for rolls or a casserole/dutch oven for large loaves, but it’s baker’s choice.  I will note that if I use the dutch oven for a big loaf, I cook w/lid on for half the time, then off for the rest. Experiment to your heart’s content.

TWO VARIATIONS

Cider cinnamon bread: add 1/2 c. brown sugar & 1+ tsp cinnamon to the dry ingredients, Liquid component:  2 tbsp butter plus even amounts of milk & apple cider to get to 12 oz, nuke until the butter melts.

Herbed bread: add an extra 1/2 tsp of salt plus 2 TABLEspoons of mixed herbs to the dry ingredients. Liquid component:  1 c. water & 1/4 c. olive oil. Spray tops of rolls/loaf w/oil  or egg wash & sprinkle on kosher salt for extra yumminess.

And that’s all the all there is until later. Keep on keeping on, and have more bread pics:

 

Just the facts this time: scones my way

My last baking adventure post wandered into a rantlet about scientific method, so for this one I’m sticking to Talking About The Recipe.

Here be my current “scone” recipe. It’s a blend of several scone & buttermilk biscuit recipes because that’s how I roll. PUN INTENDED. HA.

Before you begin:

  • preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  • If you’re adding dried fruit, set 1 cup’s worth of fruit to soak in hot water.
  • Find your Really Big Bowl. Getting the dough to behave & fold into yummy layers is MUCH easier in a big bowl than on a counter. Plus then you don’t have to clear as much countertop to work on.

1. mix together in your Really Big Bowl (I use a whisk)

3 c flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2-1 tsp salt
*plus ONLY IF you’re doing a sweet scone: 1/4-1/2 c sugar

2. add in 1 super-cold stick of butter.

recommendations I ignore: cut the butter into small chunks & work into the flour mixture with your fingertips or fork or pastry cutter until it’s all in flour-coated teeny pieces. Being me, I often use soft butter (GASP) and I think the results still come out tasty not “tough,” but YMMV.

* also toss in 6-8 oz shredded cheese at the same time as the butter if you’re craving cheezy/savory scones.

3. add in 1 cup milk or cream or buttermilk or milk mixed w/unflavored yogurt, all the variations give slight differences in final flavor. The important thing is, add about 1 cup total liquid.

*if you’re making sweet fruit scones, drain most/all of the soaking liquid & add the fruit at the same time as the milk.

4. mix it all up in your Really Big Bowl with spoon and then hands until it comes together as a dough. It might be sticky, especially the fruit version if you left a lot of water in the fruit like I do when I don’t feel like being patient/thorough about draining it.

4.1 If it turns out especially pain-in-the-ass wet, at this point you can plop spoonfuls on a cookie sheet and make drop scones out of it.

4.2 Otherwise for shaped treats, keep pressing it all together with floured hands until it just barely holds together in a ball. Fold the shaggy lump of dough in half in the bowl, then gently flatten it out again. Do that three or four times total — the dough gets easier to work each time.

5. Squish out/roll the flattened dough until it’s about 1/2″ thick and cut into your preferred shapes. I like triangles because it’s the most efficient use of the dough, and I can twist up the edge trimmings into freeform weirdling shapes. If the dough has worked up well, I shape & cut it in the bowl so I don’t have to bother flouring the counter.

6. Place treats on parchment papered cookie sheet & slide into the oven to bake.

7. IMMEDIATELY DROP THE OVEN TEMP to 400.

Yes,  I did say pre-heat to 425. You can even pre-heat to 450. Biscuits & scones need the high temp to rise well. But I drop the temp as soon as they’re in because if I leave the temp up, I always misjudge the shorter cook time and overcook the bottoms. Lowering the temp and cooking longer gives me a bigger “done” window.

8. Bake for about 15 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean/tops turn golden brown. (You can do fancy shit like paint the tops with milk or egg to make them brown up more. I can’t be bothered. Cheezy scones get browner faster than fruit ones, go figure.

FULL DISCLAIMER: the cook time can be vary by plus OR minus 10 minutes depending on the size & shape & variety & oven quirks. That’s nearly a 100% over/under, so keep a close eye on them the first few times.

That’s it. The recipe is super-customizable and you can get a sheet’s worth ready to bake before the oven finishes pre-heating once you get the hang of it. Plus it dirties only 1 bowl & 1 measuring cup and makes anywhere from 10 to 24 scones, depending on how BIG you like them.

Happy experimenting, that’s all until later!

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Here be more pictures of tasty treats, just for added entertainment value:

img_21433dbb3a93-a380-4af5-b33d-50a80dad8911

img_4881
yes, I overbaked some of these, but look at those triangles!

 

Another creative baking adventure

I committed baking heresy again: I made cookies without a recipe. Well. Sorta. I made cookies with 4 recipes and followed none of them. Ginger cookies. I like ginger-molasses cookies, and every year I add a new variation to the collection

It isn’t that I don’t like recipes. I do! I love them.

I’m just really unfaithful. Sometimes I stray because I lack an essential ingredient (eggs, once) or have an ingredient in excess I’m using up by throwing it into every food I make. (dried cranberries) Mostly I stray for the fun of it. “I wonder what happens if I sub in cream cheese for butter!” “Will honey work in these cookies instead of sugar?”

Fretting over ingredients and measurements goes against everything I enjoy about baking. I’ve learned a few basic principles and proportional balances, and as long as I honor those parameters, I have confidence the results will be edible.

Maybe even tasty.

When I confess to recipe cheating (after I’ve let people eat the results and they come back for seconds) I often get stares of horrified astonishment.

That’s because people believe the phrase “cooking is an art, but baking is a science.” and it leaves them worried that any recipe deviation will lead to disaster.

Not so. Ha. No. First, baking is no more or less an art than any other form of cooking. And second, precision instruction-following is not even a part of the scientific method.

Scientific investigations go something like this:

  1. Observe a phenomenon,
  2. Form a hypothesis. AKA make a guess.
  3. Develop a methodology to test your guess hypothesis. AKA think up an experiment.
  4. Enact your method. Experiment.
  5. Document & review results.

Thassit. Reproducibility is the part where you circle back around to step 1 and test what you observed as the result of the prior experiment. In other words, it’s a fancy way of saying, “Can I make it happen again?”

Precision reproduction is important when validating a new scientific discovery, sure, but when it comes to baking?

In a sense I do adhere to the “baking is science” adage, but I do it by enjoying the exploratory observation & hypothesis-testing steps. “Golly, I wonder if these ingredients will go together. They all taste good, and they go well in pairs. LETS DUMP IT ALL IN AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS.”

And the results this time were delicious! Here’s the recipe for this year’s chewy, spicy, addition to my ginger cookie recipe collection.

1. Cream together:

  • 3/4 c. shortening:  1/2 stick butter & 1/2 package (4 oz) cream cheese
  • 1/2 brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/2 c white sugar

2. Then add one at a time:

  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. molasses…or more. I put in a fair bit more…

3. In a separate bowl, sift together:

  • 2 c. flour
  • 1+ tsp powdered ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cloves if you want. I do not ever want.
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

4. Add dry ingredients to the mixer bowl and mix until just blended.

5. stir in 1/2 c. diced crystallized ginger if you want to really ginger up things.

5.5. Chill dough if you want it to be easy to handle. Otherwise prepare for sticky fingers

6. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

7. Put some sugar in to a bowl, scoop out spoonfuls of dough & toss in sugar to cover.

8. drop sugar-covered dough bits onto parchment-covered cookie sheets.

9. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 min depending on size. Done when they are crackly on top & centers flatten slightly.

Try not to eat them all in one sitting. IMG_6823

That’s all the all for now.