Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Easy Four-Grain Pot Boule

This recipe has intrigued me ever since my friend Anca posted it on her blog. From the book Kneadlessly Simple,  it's a thick, crusty, rustic loaf made in a enamel coated cast-iron pot, so easy to make that you never even have to knead, much less even touch, the dough. Aside from calculating the timing of it all, because it takes a while for a dough like this to do its thing so that you don't have to do anything to it, it is extremely easy and we were super impressed with the don't let the timing stop you from trying it because there is literally next to no hands-on work involved! I served it with lentil soup and it was delicious. We really did love this bread, and I can't wait to try some more recipes from this book....I need to order a copy of it. Until then, Anca has made a few more recipes from it on her blog, so check them out as well. 
The one thing that intimidated me by this bread was that the instructions seemed long and I knew I needed to calculate the timing out so that it would be ready in time for dinner. However, the instructions are very easy and the timing is very loose depending on how far in advance you want to start of it, so it's very forgiving. But just in case anyone else out there looks at the instructions and feels a little bit like I did, I am posting the times that I used in order to have it ready by dinner time, so that it might help any of you who wish to try this bread...because I don't want you to have a single excuse for not making it! Also, I did not have rye flour, so I used only cornmeal and all-purpose flour and we loved the results. This bread is delicious, perfect with soup, and the results will make you feel like quite the fancy baker despite its extremely easy instructions. I think I'll definitely be serving this for guests the next time I cook soup for a crowd!
I've always been one to say I'm not big into baking, but after making a bread like this, I'm starting to think that maybe that's not so true anymore...

As Anca quoted the author on her blog, I too will leave you with this quote describing the bread:

From the Introduction to the recipe:
"In the process of using up some packages and tidying up my baking supplies, I tossed a little cornmeal, rolled oats, and rye flour into a white bread dough and discovered I’d created a combination worth repeating. The serendipitous blend lends this homey, crisp-crusted pot bread a light color and subtle, indefinable grain taste that whispers rather than shouts its mixed-grain heritage. It’s a loaf that goes with most anything and often gets compliments. It’s one of my favorites." -Nancy Baggett

And now, the recipe.

Yield 1 loaf
I N G R E D I E N T S :
3¼ cups (16.25 ounces) unbleached all-purpose white flour or unbleached bread flour, plus more as needed 
½ cup yellow or white cornmeal, plus 1 Tbsp. for garnish 
½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats or quick-cooking (but not instant) oats (leave oats in original form- no grinding needed).
¼ cup light or dark rye flour (if unavailable, substitute 2 Tbsp. each more cornmeal and oats-I did this)
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 tsp. table salt (I used sea salt)
¾ tsp. instant, fast-rising, or bread-machine yeast (I used Fleischmann's RapidRise Bread Machine yeast)
2 cups ice water, plus more if needed
Corn oil, canola oil, or other mild-flavored vegetable oil or oil spray for coating dough (I used canola oil)

D I R E C T I O N S :
Note the times I did each step in parenthesis below so that it would be ready by late afternoon. The good thing about this recipe is that the times are very broad and flexible...this is just my example of how I did it this first time.

1. Preparing the dough and first rise
(Time needed: 12-18 hours. So I assembled it before bedtime the night before, around only took about 5 minutes)
In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together the flour, cornmeal, oats, rye flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Thoroughly stir the water into the bowl, scraping down the sides until the ingredients are thoroughly blended. If the mixture is too dry to incorporate all the flour, a bit at a time, stir in just enough more ice water to blend the ingredients; don’t over-moisten, as the dough should be fairly stiff. 
If necessary, stir in enough more flour to stiffen it slightly (I definitely needed more flour)
Brush or spray the top with oil. 
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
If desired, for best flavor or for convenience, you can refrigerate the dough for 3 to 10 hours (I did not do this, so if you are going to, take that into consideration with your timing).
Then let rise at cool room temperature for 12 to 18 hours; if convenient, vigorously stir once partway through the rise. (I stirred once the next morning around 8:30AM. It deflates and then re-rises).

2. Second rise
(I did this around 12:30PM...14 hours after first assembling dough)
Using an oiled rubber spatula, gently lift and fold the dough in towards the center all the way around until mostly deflated; don’t stir. Brush or spray with oil. Re-cover with plastic wrap.

3. Let rise using any of these methods:
(Time needed: 1-2 1/2 hours, or longer if you want to refrigerate it for a while to extend timing. 
I did about a 2 1/2 hour regular rise, from 12:30PM-2:30PM.)
For a 1½- to 2½-hour regular rise, let stand at warm room temperature; for a 1- to 2-hour accelerated rise, let stand in a turned-off microwave along with 1 cup of boiling-hot water; or for an extended rise, refrigerate, covered, for 4 to 24 hours, then set out at room temperature. Continue the rise until the dough doubles from the deflated size, removing the plastic if the dough nears it.

4. Baking preliminaries
(I started this part around 2:30PM)
20 minutes before baking time, put a rack in the lower third of the oven (the next to lowest option in your oven...3 down); preheat to 450 degrees. 
Heat a 3½- to 4-quart (or larger) heavy metal Dutch oven in the oven until sizzling hot (check with a few drops of water...I left it in for the whole 20 minutes), then remove it using heavy mitts. 
Taking care not to deflate the dough, loosen it from the bowl sides with an oiled rubber spatula and gently invert it into the pot. Don’t worry if it’s lopsided and ragged-looking; it will even out during baking. Generously spritz or brush the top with water, then sprinkle over a tablespoon of cornmeal. 
Using a well-oiled serrated knife or kitchen shears, cut a ½-inch-deep, 4-inch diameter circle in the loaf center. Immediately top with the lid. Shake the pot back and forth to center the dough.

5. Baking
(I started this part around 2:50PM)
Reduce the heat to 425 degrees(I forgot to do this part and it turned out fine but please take note of it!). Bake, covered, on that lower rack for 50 minutes (My time: 2:50PM-3:40PM)
Remove the lid. 
Reduce the heat to 400 degrees. 
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer, until the top is well browned and a skewer inserted in the thickest part comes out with just a few crumbs on the tip (or until center registers 210 to 212 degrees on an instant-read thermometer). (My time: 3:40PM-4:00PM).
Then bake for 5 minutes longer to ensure the center is baked through.
Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the loaf to the rack. Cool thoroughly.
(So for me, the bread was completely baked and cooled by around 4:30PM...just in time for dinner an hour later.)

6. Serving and storing: Cut or tear the loaf into portions; it tastes good warm, but will cut better when cool. Cool completely before storing. To maintain the crisp crust, store in a large bowl draped with a clean tea towel or in a heavy paper bag. Or store airtight in a plastic bag or foil; the crust will soften, but can be crisped by heating the loaf, uncovered, in a 400-degree oven for a few minutes. The bread will keep at room temperature for 3 days, and may be frozen, airtight, for up to 2 months.

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