Crusty Garlic-Tuscan Herb Loaf

>> Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I debated whether or not to use the word crusty in the title. Crusty is a good word to describe great bread. But also a creepy word. Whatever. Anyway, I just got back from one of the worst runs of my life. I set out to do 8 because apparently we have a "snowicane" coming. But I didn't drink water or eat anything, so after about a mile, I lost all energy and felt incredibly dehydrated. Let this be a lesson to all of you.

After plodding a slow four on snow-covered sidewalks, I returned home defeated. (Guess that's happening a lot lately. First, the failed fortune cookies, now this run.) I plan to head out again tonight for an additional 2 miles. A good compromise. I'll also do a little yoga. And you should all keep an eye out for the hump day yoga post, to be published sometime today.

Back to the loaf. I like to make bread. But I've never achieved a crust I would consider better than amateur. That's all changed. I won this amazing Tuscan Herb EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil) from Fiore -- a shop specializing in artisan olive oils and vinegar in Bar Harbor, Maine -- via Erin's (Domestic Adventure, you may know her from such guest posts as Music to your Feet) generous giveaway. Thanks, Erin!

So, this is one of those no-knead recipes that has circulated the web . . . taken every food blogger by storm, really. You need a cast iron dutch oven (below) . . . and if you don't have one, this recipe is great incentive to make the investment. I've had one since we got married, but only broke it in this week for this recipe. Now I plan to make this bread at least once a week! I'll do variations, too. But I played it safe for my first try. A basic white bread, infused with the taste of Maine (though you can use regular olive oil or another kind), and full of garlicky goodness.

Oh, yeah. You also need patience. This isn't for those of you who need instant gratification. The dough rises for 18 to 24 hours. Then a quick punch-down. Rise again another 2 hours. Then bake 30 minutes. Just FYI.

What you'll need . . .
  • 3 cups unbleached white bread flour (I used King Arthur)
  • 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant or other active dry yeast
  • 1 cup cool (55 to 65 degrees) water
  • 1/3 cup olive oil or herb variety
  • Cornmeal or additional flour for dusting

Method . . . (lots of steps, none of them difficult)
  1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, salt, garlic powder, and yeast. Make an impression in the middle of the dry ingredients, almost like a little bowl.
  2. Pour the water and olive oil into the impression you just made. Using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, adding a bit more water if necessary.
  3. Cover the bowl with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 18 to 24 hours.
  4. When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece.
  5. Using lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula, lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Tuck the edges of the dough under to make it round.
  6. Dust a cookie sheet with cornmeal. Gently place the dough on the cookie sheet, seam side down.
  7. Dust the top lightly with cornmeal. Place another lightly oiled piece of plastic wrap over the loaf-in-progress. Then let rest in a warm, draft-free spot for just about 2 hours.
  8. Position one of your oven racks so that your dutch oven will be centered in the oven, and preheat it to 475 degrees F.
  9. Place a covered 4-1/2 to 5-1/2 quart cast-iron dutch oven in the center of the rack. Let fully preheat.
  10. Carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side up. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.
  11. Remove the lid and continue baking until the loaf is a deep chestnut color -- but not burned -- 15 to 30 minutes. Use a heatproof spatula to carefully lift the loaf out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly before slicing.

After all that anticipation. The rising. The baking. You'll enjoy Wegmans-quality bread AT HOME! It's THAT good. Now onto the Foodie Book Club. If you missed yesterday's post with all the details, go check it out now (just click here). We're going 22 people (and counting) strong at this point. And there's still time to join in! Just make sure you do it soon -- you'll have a chance to suggest books until midnight on Friday (2/26). And we'll vote on Sunday. So mark your calendars and check back.

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