Monday, May 18, 2009

Peasant Boule

My husband, who is a notoriously thoughtful gift-giver, once came up with a brilliant gift idea for me - a gift certificate to a local kitchen store that offers various cooking and baking lessons.
He presented me with the gift certificate and a listing of all the classes they had to offer. I honed in on one in particular: a bread-making class.
Bread is one of those things that I always wanted to attempt to make. There are few things in life I love more than bread. But I'd never worked with yeast before, and in all honesty, it scared me.
I knew a class would be a perfect way to break in some bread recipes. The best part was that the teacher had clearly made a lot of bread in her day. And she wasn't afraid to tell you what you were doing wrong and how, precisely, to improve your technique.
We made a handful of different breads that day, but the one that stuck with me -- the one that goes perfectly with Mike's homemade spaghetti sauce -- is the Peasant Boule.
I had never heard of a Peasant Boule. I'm still not real sure what the name means. But I can tell you that it's delicious. And not as hard to make as you might think.

3-1/2 cups all purpose flour
2-1/4 tsp active dry yeast
2 tblspn sugar
1-1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 cups water at 115-120 degrees (You made need a little extra. I use a basic baking thermometer to make sure the water is the right temperature.)
Optional -- 1/3-2/3 cup finely chopped fresh herbs of your choice (chives, parsley and basil are good)

Combine the flour, yeast, sugar, salt and baking powder in the bowl of a stand mixer (can also be done by hand, which is how I do it). Include the herbs at this point if you are using them. (I never use herbs, FYI. I think the bread is awesome without them. If you try some herbs, let me know how it turns out.)
Add the water and mix until combined. The dough should be very soft. Add more water if needed. Mix until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn out onto a floured board and knead until no longer stick -- about 10 minutes. Use no more flour than necessary.

Place in a buttered bowl and cover with plastic.

Allow to double in size -- about an hour.

Turn dough onto a board and press down gently to deflate it. Without too much handling, shape into a round about 7 inches wide and place it smooth side up in a buttered 9-inch round cake pan. Generously brush with butter.

Allow to rise (uncovered) until doubled in size -- about 25 minutes. It will fill the pan and will be light and airy to the touch. Brush with more butter.
Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for about 40 minutes (it only takes about 30 minutes in my oven, which is known for baking quickly). Loaf should be well-browned and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Internal temperature should be 200 degrees (I use that trusty baking thermometer again to check).
If the bottom crust is not as brown as you would like, remove from the pan and place directly on the rack for 3-5 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on a rack.

Slice and enjoy!


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