Exactly a week ago, I had to urge to cook something, but had no groceries in the house. But I did have flour, water, salt, honey, and yeast, which was all I needed to make Rustic White Bread.
The recipe is pretty simple and pretty close to both the pizza dough and the focaccia that I’ve already made. Throw everything in the stand mixer, let it spin. The dough ended up being really sticky, so I added the allotted ¼ cup of extra flour. It was still pretty sticky, but I didn’t want to mess it up by adding more flour than the recipe called for, so I went ahead and turned it out on the table to hand knead it.
Of course, before I could do that, I had to clean the table. And after I had moved all my sewing stuff to one side and sprayed it down with Lysol, my cat Weasel jumped right up in the middle of the table and walked around on it. So I had to carry to dough over to the table, chase off the cat, reclean the table, and then finally add the flour and dough. Damn cat. He’s never sleeping when I bake.
The dough picked up quite a bit of flour during kneading and that solved the stickiness. I let it rise about an hour in a bowl, then followed the pictures in the Book to dimple the dough with my fingers before shaping it into a smooth ball and letting it rise again for another hour. It said to let it sit on parchment paper, but I used the last of mine baking pizzas. So I googled “substitutions for parchment paper” and decided to try aluminum foil. The recipe also calls for using a pizza stone, but I don’t have one, so I heated a rimmed baking sheet upside down in the oven instead. That’s what the Book called for in the pizza recipe. (I really need to follow Alton Brown’s advice and go buy a terracotta paver to use as a pizza stone. No way am I paying $40 for one.)
After my dough finished rising the second time, I was a bit worried. The Book has warning pictures of dough that has “over-proofed”, i.e. has risen too long. My dough looked like it was starting to get there, as it had spread out more than in their pictures and wasn’t as tall as I thought it should be. ‘Oh, well,’ I thought, ‘I’ll just bake it and see what happens.’
The actual baking instructions for this bread are a little complex. First you cut a cross into the middle of the loaf with a sharp knife, which is actually easier said than done. Then you spray the dough with water right before putting it into a 500 degree oven. Then it says to spray it with water every minute for the first three minutes. So I tried, only actually spraying it twice during the first three minutes. And since I didn’t remove the bread from the oven before spraying it, I’m not sure how much water actually made it to the bread before it vaporized. But I tried. After 15 minutes, you reduce the temp to 400 and bake fore 25 more minutes. When I pulled it out, it was a pretty gorgeous piece of bread. And luckily the foil pulled off the bottom ok.
As for the compound butter, I decided I needed something to go with my bread. For preference, I’d like to have really nice runny cheese, but since we were broke I had to figure out something from what I had on hand. So, turning to the compound butter page of the Book, I found one that I had the ingredients for. Fresh rosemary, shredded parmesan, garlic, salt and pepper. Mmmm. Both the bread and the butter were pretty awesome. The bottom crust of the bread was a little thick, but I like crusty bread. We ate bread and butter for dinner, and I don’t think it gets much better than that!