The Quest for Bread

    One thing I've really come to miss since leaving the US is good bread.  I never thought much about bread before we left.  But it seems that the only kind of bread we could find after leaving Florida is plain, white, pasty loaves of the most bland, boring bread you could imagine.  OK, sometimes it was shaped into hot dog buns, but it was still boring.

   I longed for whole wheat, coarse grained breads with crackly crust, ciabatta loaves crusted with herbs, sourdough boules, French baguettes...anything but Wonder bread!!   By the time we'd reached Georgetown, I was ready to take matters in my own hands.  Armed with some textbook like tomes on bread baking, I started churning out a couple new loaves every week, trying to figure out how to make the bread I wanted in a little galley oven.

   I'll spare you the details, but here are a few things I've learned:

If you want crispy crust, eat the bread within an hour or two after baking it.  The humidity of the tropics makes crispness a fleeting virtue.

Use bread flour, not "all purpose".  It really makes a difference and it's worth the storage space to have both.  This has been a challenge for me.  I'm hoping once we get to the French Islands that I'll find bread flour more often!

Have a pizza stone in the bottom of your galley oven to hold and distribute heat evenly.  If you can use cornmeal to gently slide your loaves right onto your baking stone, all the better for that "hearth bread" effect.

And finally, the temperature is nearly always perfect down here for raising bread in the afternoon.  Then as it cools off in the evening, fire up the oven!


   So here's one of my favorite bread recipies.  It makes a nice chewy, coarse crumb bread with big airy holes in it--just perfect for ripping off chunks and dipping in a good extra virgin olive oil.  As a loaf, it makes a rustic sandwich bread, but you can shape it into a nice ciabatta or foccocia bread, too. We freeze the dough and take out blobs to stretch out into a pizza dough with great results.  Just keep in mind that the overnight in the refrigerator is absolutely critical to the great flavor this bread has:

Uliad's Rustic Bread

(Makes 3 small loaves, or 6 small baguettes)

6 cups bread flour

2 1/4 tsp salt

1 3/4 tsp instant yeast (this is the best, but if you must use active dry yeast, dissolve it in some of the water first)

2 1/4  to 3 cups ice cold water

     Combine flour, salt, yeast and  2 cups of water and mix.  (an electric stand mixer would be nice if I had room for one!)  The dough should be sticky on the bottom of the bowl but should release from the sides.  If too stiff and releasing from the bottom of the bowl, sprinkle in small amounts of water until you get the right consistency.  Knead only a short time until the ingredients are evenly mixed.  Immediately put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and put it in the refrigerator overnight.  This cold rest retards the yeast activity and allows other enzymes in the flour to work first and start breaking down the starch to give good flavor to the bread.  Don't skip it!

    The next day, it will probably be partly risen.  Set the bowl out at room temperature for 2-3 hours, or until the dough has at least doubled in size.  Sprinkle a work area liberally with flour and turn out the dough.  Sprinkle more flour on top.  Handle the dough gently to avoid breaking all the air bubbles in the bread.  Use a pastry scraper to cut the dough into 3 oblong loaves, or 6 narrow baguettes.  Shape gently and score the tops with a knife. Put the loaves on parchment paper to slide into the oven

    Preheat the oven to 500F.  Sprinkle a pan or baking stone with cornmeal.  When oven is hot, slide loaves onto the preheated surface to bake.  Lower oven temp to 450 after putting in bread.  Bake about 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer stuck into the loaf reads at least 205 F.