Homemade Bread Bowls

Okay, my pretties, SoupAddict is going to break you of your fear of yeast breads, right here and now.

Yeast is not intimidating. It does not carry weapons. It has no mouth, so it cannot mock your misshapen loaf. It doesn’t have fingers with which to point accusingly when the dough won’t rise. It doesn’t not have a tongue to cluck with mother-in-law-strength disapproval at burnt crust.

Physiologically, it doesn’t even have multiple cells. Remember the amoeba in biology? All single-celled and blobby? Were you afraid of the amoeba? SoupAddict thinks not. SoupAddict will not tolerate fear of single-celled organisms.

To further alleviate fears, SoupAddict will now share her very simple secrets to becoming the master of your yeast domain. They are as follows [SoupAddict clears her throat, breathes deeply from her diaphragm, and projects to the back of the room]:

  • Thou shalt not buy those strips of active yeast packets at the grocery. They are ridiculously—criminally, even— expensive. Buy instant yeast in brick form. You can buy a one-pound brick of yeast that will last you the year for a little over double the price of just two of those ridiculous—criminal, even—active yeast packet strips. Criminal, I tell you! [Down, girl, it’s just price-gouging, not, like, murder.] Instant yeast can replace active yeast in all recipes and … dig this, my pretties … does not need to be proofed first.
  • When the yeast brick arrives, thou shalt dump the entire thing into an airtight container.
  • Thou shalt store the yeast container in the freezer at all times. Yeast does not need to be thawed prior to use, and the cold temps will keep the yeast fresh for a long, long time.

Treat your yeast right, and it will not smother you in your sleep with its single-celled self. Seriously! Unlike amoebas, which do have feet, yeast has not developed the ability to walk into your bedroom and climb up your blankets. So, if you’re going to abuse your yeast, just don’t sleep with your head in the yeast jar. In that case, all bets are off.

Today, SoupAddict is going demonstrate the wonders of yeasty goodness by making bread bowls. Bread bowls are tasty receptacles for soup. Don’t you just love to dunk a chunk of bread into your soup, and then chomp on the soggy goodness? SoupAddict does. And now she gets to share two of her addictions with you in one post. (Well, okay, two posts, because soup to go into the bread bowl will appear in the next post.)

SoupAddict also loves bread bowls because the bowl is, you know, sort of self-cleaning, which means she doesn’t have to do the exhausting ritual of opening the dishwasher door, pulling out the rack, and positioning the bowl in a non-clattering position relative to the other residents already thusly positioned in a previous, similarly exhausting effort.

Next, she will work on inventing a bread spoon, and her dishwashing life will be complete.

Although many bread recipes will create wonderful bread bowls, the one we’ll work with today is a white-flour, whole-wheat-flour combo, which produces a lovely crust on the outside and a lovely soft, subtly whole-grainy crumb on the inside.

This bread will made in two parts, over two days (but shown in one post — ah, the magic of the interwebs). The first day, you make half the dough and let it set overnight to allow the fermentation process do its kickin’ thing (this portion of the dough is often called the pre-ferment). The second day, you make the rest of the dough, combine it with the first, let it all rise a couple of times, and then bake it.

But don’t you worry about the two day thing: Day 1’s total hard labor output consists of 10 minutes of measuring stuff into a bowl and then letting the standmixer do its thang. Like soups left in the fridge overnight and come out tasting like heaven, bread also benefits from a little downtime to fully develop its flavor, so it’s worth the extra day of planning. In fact, SoupAddict had to drag herself out of bed at 11:30pm because she forgot to do Day 1’s tasks (the photos for which were taken in her jammies and no make-up), and did it all half asleep (thank goodness for camera tripods and auto-focus lenses).

First things first: measuring flour. Many bread failures can be sourced directly back to the flour, not to issues with yeast. If your recipe tells you how to measure the flour, then use that method. Otherwise, you should follow one of two methods: measure flour by weight (using an accurate digital scale) or the ole lazy girl’s “scoop and sweep” method. SoupAddict is a lazy girl and, although she has a digital scale, she rarely uses it to measure flour. Scoop and sweep, baby.

Whatever you do, do not shove your measuring cup into the flour bag, draaaag it around until you think you’ve filled the cup (and until your forearm has enough flour on it to sufficiently powder your shirt and countertop), and then bang it against the sides of the bag until the flour is more or less level. (If you have a recipe that calls for you to do that, SoupAddict gives you permission to spit on it.) Instead, using a scoop or a spoon, very lightly scoop up some flour, and then pour it into your measuring cup. Repeat until the flour is mounded over the top of the cup.

Then take a straight-edge spatula or knife and run it across the top of the cup, leveling the flour precisely. Now you’re good to go. Use proper sized measuring cups: if a recipe calls for 3 1/2 cups of flour, use both a one cup measuring cup and a 1/2 cup measuring cup. Don’t cheat and try to eyeball a half cup of flour within a whole cup. Your eyes aren’t that good.

BTW, SoupAddict is measuring out ingredients for the pre-ferment. Watching SoupAddict measuring salt is not particularly interesting, but, in reviewing her photos for this post, she got a kick out of the fact that this composition captured the camera’s remote control wedged under her middle finger. Action photography secrets, revealed!

Now to the yeast. Notice how the container is slightly frosty? That’s because SoupAddict practices what she preaches. Most of the time. The yeast came out of the freezer and …

… went right into the ingredients. Flour, salt, yeast.

If you’re serious about bread-baking (and you should be, because SoupAddict is, and everything SoupAddict does is worth being serious about, is SoupAddict’s philosophy), invest in a digital thermometer. When SoupAddict was but a wee bread-baker—back when she was merely SoupInclined—she made a common mistake. She assumed that if hot water was good for proofing yeast, then REALLY hot water would be even better. She ruined many a loaf because she killed the living, breathing, non-intimidating, non-ambulatory yeast with boiling water. When a bread recipe calls for lukewarm water (and most do) the water needs to be between 90 and 100 degrees. Note that the water that comes out of your hot water faucet is around 125 degrees! Too hot, my pretties. AThermapen Instant Read Thermometer will keep you on the straight and narrow.

Okay, back to the pre-ferment. We’ve added water to our dry ingredients and have stirred the mix until the water is incorporated and there are no dry ingredients left in the bottom of the bowl. You’ll end up with this shaggy, slightly dry-feeling dough. (You can also do this step in your standmixer with the paddle attachment.)

Now you’ll need to knead this shaggy loaf into smoothness. SoupAddict loves her KitchenAid standmixer and its dough hook. SoupAddict certainly doesn’t mind kneading dough by hand, but, loves the convenience of plopping it into the bowl, turning on the machine, and walking away for 6 minutes.

The dough has been whirled and swirled into smooth doughy perfection. It slides right off the dough hook.

Pat into a neat little round. The pre-ferment hard work is all done. Now it just needs to sit. This entire process has taken about 10 minutes.

Place the pre-ferment dough in a bowl, and take note of how it currently fills the bowl. It will need to sit until doubled, about one hour.

With the dough now doubled, it goes into the refrigerator it goes for an overnight nap. And back into bed SoupAddict goes for an overnight nap.

The next afternoon, SoupAddict removed the lid from the dough bowl to find this amusing sight. Brrrrppp! Fermenting yeast produces gases, which in turn produces the lovely characteristic bread holes.

Mmmmm, King Arthur Flour’s whole wheat flour. So pretty, with its pinkish-red grains scattered throughout.

Turn the pre-ferment out onto a mat or the counter and form a log. Slice the log into 10 pieces. Set aside to warm up.

Now we’ll make the rest of the dough, using the same steps as on Day 1, but with slightly different ingredients. You’ll still end up with a shaggy loaf, after the initial mixing of ingredients. (This actually is a shaggy loaf, and not a blurry loaf, but SoupAddict’s extremely uncoordinated left hand, like a six-year-old in dire need of the bathroom, couldn’t hold still for the photo.)

Add the pre-ferment dough and the shaggy new dough into a mixer bowl. Don’t stand on formality with introductions and family histories; just throw them both in there. They’ll learn to get along quickly. Knead on low-medium with the dough hook for about 6 minutes. Return the dough to the rising bowl (or switch to a larger bowl if you have to), cover, and leave to rise for about 2 hours. It will once again double.

Whoa! This is one happy container of yeasty ingredients. Excellent.

Turn the dough out onto the counter and observe the gassy goodness. It looks like a loaf of bread already!

We’re going to make 4 medium bread bowls from this loaf, each large enough to hold about 2 ladles of soup, so slice the dough into 4 equal pieces.

Now comes the fun part: the shaping. You’ll feel like a real bread-baker instead of just an ingredients-adder-to’er. We’re going to make a boule (the fancy-schmancy French word for ‘ball’) of each of the 4 pieces of dough. Using both hands, grasp each side of the dough, with your thumbs resting on top, as shown.

Gently stretch the dough outward and under, bringing your thumbs together under the ball …

… like so. Make a one-quarter clockwise turn of the dough and repeat. Make another turn, repeat. Make another turn, repeat. Then stop. Remember to turn the dough and not yourself, or else you’ll get dizzy and fall down. Pinch the seams on the underside of the dough together so they’re fairly smooth.

The dough will be a pretty little ball and ready to be placed on your bread peel for its final rise. SoupAddict does not have space for a fancy long-handled bread peel, so she cheats and uses bamboo cutting boards sprinkled with cornmeal.

The formed dough needs to sit for its final rise, covered with a towel, for about an hour. 45 minutes in, you can slash the bread tops. This little tool is a French lame, but you can also use a knife with a sharp point. Hold the knife at a 45 degree angle to the bread surface, and make the slash quickly and decisively.

At the end of its hour rise, the dough has expanded a bit further, and the earlier slashes have left kind of a funky tic-tac-toe design. Cool!

Into the oven they go. If you do the water spritzing thing explained in the directions, make sure you cover your glass oven door with a towel. Hot glass and cool water droplets do not mix: the glass will crack, and you’ll be buying a new oven, and will have yet another reason to resent innocent, single-celled yeast. Don’t be nervous—just cover the oven door, and you’ll be fine.

To create the bowl, use a slender knife to cut a circle around the top of the bread loaf, inserting the knife only about three-quarters of the way down—you don’t want to cut through the bottom! Gently pull the circle out (and keep—serve this little top alongside the soup).

Finally, reach in with your hand and pluck out enough of the soft inner crumb to make a roomy bowl. Bread bowls are best with thin, creamy soups, such as broccoli and cheddar, cream of mushroom, chicken and wild rice. The soft insides soak up the soup like gravy, while the crusty shell stays crisp and dry.

Bread Bowls from Pain de Campagne

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

Peter Reinhart is a bread god in SoupAddict’s eyes. He completely revolutionized the way I think about bread and bread-making. I love that everytime I open this book, I learn something new. I love that everytime I open this book, I want to run to the kitchen and make some bread. And I love that the way that Peter teaches the art of bread, I can make it. Damn good, bakery-quality bread, in fact. Thank you, Peter.

Ingredients:

for the Pâte Fermentée
1 1/8 cups (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/8 cups (5 ounces) unbleached bread flour
3/4 teaspoon (.19 ounce) salt
1/2 teaspoon (.055 ounce) instant yeast
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (optional) (6 to 7 ounces) water, room temperature

for the Final Dough
3 cups pâte fermentée
1 3/4 cups (8 ounces) unbleached bread flour
1/3 cups (1.5 ounces) whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon (.19 ounce) salt
1 teaspoon (.11 ounce) instant yeast
3/4 cups (6 ounces) water, lukewarm (90 to 100 degrees)

Instructions:
1. Stir together the flours, salt and yeast in a 4 quart bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add 3/4 cup of the water, stirring until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball( or mix on low speed for 1 minute with the paddle attachment). Adjust the flour or water, according to need, so that the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff. (It is better to err on the sticky side, as you can adjust easier during kneading. It is harder to add water once the dought firms up.)

2. Transfer the dough to a counter sprinkled with flour, or to the bowl of a stand mixer, and knead for 4-6 minutes. Lightly oil a bowl, transfer the dough to the bowl, roll around to coat with oil. cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour. Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it lightly, return it to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.

3. Day two: remove the pâte fermentée from the fridge 1 hour before making the dough. Cut it into about 10 small pieces and cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour to take off the chill.

4. Stir together the flours, salt, yeast and pâte fermentée in a large bowl (or stand mixer). Add the water, stirring until everyting comes together and makes a coarse ball. The dough should be soft and pliable. Transfer the dough to a floured counter and knead for 8-10 minutes (or 6-7 minutes in a stand mixer). Lightly oil a bowl, transfer the dough to the bowl, roll around to coat with oil. Cover and ferment at room temperature for 2 hours, until the dough doubles in size.

5. Sprinkle flour on the counter and gently transfer the dough. Divide into 4 euqal pieces. Shape the dough into a boule. Sprinkle baking sheets with semolina flour or cornmeal and transfer the dough to the pans. mist the dough with spray oil and loosely cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Let rise for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 500°F (with your baking stone inside if you are using one) and place a steam pan on an oven shelf beneath where the loaves will bake.

6. Slide the dough to your baking stone or place the baking sheets directly in the oven. Pour 1 cup of hot water into the steam pan and close the oven door. After 30 seconds, spray the oven walls with water (using a spray bottle) and close the door. Repeat twice more at 30-second intervals. After the final spray, lower the oven setting to 450°F and continue baking for 10 minutes. If necessary, rotate the loaves 180 degrees for even baking. Continue to bake for 10-15 more minutes. They should be a rich golden brown all around, and should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

7. Transfer the bread to a cooling rack. Allow the bread to cool for at least 40 minutes before slicing or serving.


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