Many things were important contributors in the rise of the human civilization. Fire. Granneries. Roads. The wheel. The fork. Shoes. Pointed sticks and ropes. But today let’s talk about bread.
One of the foundational foods of human culture, bread has been cooked on every continent (except for Antarctica) for millennia. Bread is diverse, ranging from aboriginal seed bread in Australia to Japanese milk bread in Japan, to matzo from Exodus, and even to pretzels, which were not invented in Germany as many believe, but in Italy by a hermit monk.
One of the most basic breads, and an easy recipe for beginner bakers, comes not from any of those places, however, but from France. The traditional French boule, from the French for “ball,” is a porous, soft, hearty and tough-crusted bread served best with a good layer of butter or your favorite soup. Best of all, it takes no time at all to make and it’s incredibly simple.
First, gather your ingredients:
1½ cups warm water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3 cups all purpose flour (plus a little more for the countertop)
1 tablespoon salt
Cornmeal (for the board)
The next step is actually making the bread. You’ll want to proof the yeast (meaning you need to wait for bubbles to form) in a mixture of warm water and sugar. This will take five to ten minutes. While you wait, mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. When the yeast has formed teeming with bubbles on the surface, pour the entire mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly either with a large wooden spoon or an electric dough hook until the dough is soft, sticky, and uniform. Don’t add more flour.
Do not remove the dough from the bowl; this recipe requires no kneading. Simply cover the bowl with a dish towel and let rise for two hours in a warm place.
When the dough has doubled in bulk, turn it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Divide it in two without kneading, and make sure not to punch it down. Shape the dough into round loaves and dust the tops lightly with flour.
Next, score the loaves (shallow slices) with a sharp knife– the cuts should be a good quarter to a half inch in depth– and let rise on the floured surface or cornmeal-dusted baking sheet for ten to fifteen minutes. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F while you wait.
When the dough has completed its final rise, place it onto a cornmeal-dusted baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes or until the surface is a dark, golden brown. I personally like to cook my bread for an extra five or ten minutes and glaze with an egg and water mixture to ensure a darker, crispier crust.
When the bread is ready (you can tell by quickly turning it over and tapping on the bottom with a knuckle– a hollow sound means it is fully cooked), remove the bread from the oven and cool on a rack.
This traditional bread, a piece of human history at your dinner table, tastes delicious with a thick soup or a healthy coat of rosemary butter.
You can also simplify the recipe even further by mixing and cooking in one round terracotta bread bowl.
(Copyright 2017 Tys Sweeney)