In his book “Cooked”, best-selling author and food advocate Michael Pollan closely examines the effects that the elements (air, water, fire, and Earth) have in food preparation. Now Netflix has developed “Cooked” into a four-part documentary series that inspires cooks with stunning cinematography and a message to appreciate the cooking process.
In the Air episode, Michael uttered the adage, “if you give a man flour and water to live on, he will not last long. But if you teach him to make bread, he will live long”. He defined bread as a revolutionary advance for humans. Making bread “isn’t rocket science” and far too often we over complicate it. All you need is water, flour, a little salt and patience.
I have never been more inspired by the dichotomy of the simple yet sophisticated nature of bread. My husband and I were on our way to help our friend and boyfriend paint her new home. She is a vegetarian, so we often bring Brie en Croute to snack on together. We decided to buy flour, rosemary, and yeast to make a beautiful loaf of bread at her house. I mean come on, there is nothing better than the smell of bread in a warm cozy home. Knowing that we had to wait for the bread to rise, we brought a variety of cheeses and a Pepper-Parmesan Loaf to share in the meantime. The four of us polished off the whole loaf and were *almost* too exhausted to paint. However, we mustered up enough energy to do one coat in the living room. Just one though.
Our friend’s boyfriend (who is also our great friend) has been working on perfecting pizza dough. He has pretty much nailed it with pizza flour shipped from Italy and a cast iron pan heated under the broiler. So you can imagine our afternoon…
Five round plates with fist sized balls of pizza dough lay strewn across the kitchen counters, each wrapped tightly with plastic. The Artisan bread dough was starting to swell, filling the once half-full bowl. The oven was preheated to its highest setting, with the cast iron pan nestled inside.
When buying ingredients from Wholefoods, I asked the baker for some tips. A few tips he shared with me include:
- Heat the oven at 550 (or the highest temperature).
- Place a shallow water bath under the bread pan to create steam. This will give you a crispy crust.
- Bake it for 5 minutes with a convection oven.
Before baking, we researched some beautiful scoring designs for artisan bread. After seeing the final product, I realize that the cuts need to be much deeper in order to get a dramatic design. A little egg-wash and herbal salt and the bread was ready for action. After 5 minutes on the pre-heated cast iron pan, the crust lacked its golden hue. But a few more minutes did the trick! As the bread steamed, exuding a rosemary aroma, the four of us tore through the crust with our hands. The seasoned salt intensified the delicate rosemary flavor. Wow. Divine. Second loaf of bread down the hatch.
I am embarrassed to admit that only an hour later, those five billowy pizza balls were ready for baking and therefore ready for eating. Five hand-crafted personal pizzas sizzled on the cast-iron pan and were ready in minutes. We ate them all. Mind you, we have already eaten two whole loafs of bread with cheese. It was that kind of day.
- 3 cups flour (I used King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour)
- 1 package of active dry yeast
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 2/3 cups warm water (110 degrees F)
- 3-4 teaspoons of fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 egg, beaten
- 3-4 pinches of seasoned coarse salt ( I used rosemary flavored salt)
- 1 shallow pan of water
- Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl and mix to combine. Add the water and herbs and mix well with your hands. The dough will be very sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 2 to 5 hours.
- Preheat the oven to its highest setting (500- 550 degrees F). If using a cast iron pan or dutch oven, preheat it in the oven. (Do not use a cooking stone, they cannot withstand the heat and will break.)
- Flour the counter. Transfer the dough onto the counter and dust it with flour. Knead the dough with your hands, forming it into a ball.
- Carefully remove the hot baking dish from the oven. Transfer the dough ball onto the ungreased baking dish.
- Brush the top of the bread with the egg wash and sprinkle coarse seasoned salt on top of the dough.
- Use a sharp knife to score the bread with deep cuts based on a design of your choosing. (See the picture below for inspiration)
- Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack. Place the bread on the top rack above the water bath. Bake for 5-10 minutes until deep golden brown.
- Break the bread with your hands and serve with an array of cheeses!