©2022 Michael Raven
I’ve been making rustic bread for the past week or so. Several times now and I’ve discovered a genuine interest in crafting artisan rustic breads as a result. I’m no foodie, so I’ll skip pictures for the time being, especially as it is the experience of making and eating simple crusty breads that is more interesting to me than the end appearance. Besides, I am still learning the basics.
It started when I decided that I was going to break up my routine a few weeks back and started making new foods for dinner — meals more balanced and independent of convenience items. Honestly, my real, unspoken goal was to reduce the amount of processed foods in my diet, and try to dial back on the preservatives and other chemicals that make our foods what they are for the past century or so. I am not trending towards “clean eating” as much as I am trying to just make it so my foods are less dependent on over-processed, hyper-chemical-additive, high sodium content.
I was making lentil soup that day as part of this overhaul in my thinking and really craved some crusty bread to go with it. I ended up buying a partially-baked “rustic” loaf that you finished in your own oven to make “crusty”, largely because I was out of time to make the bread myself (I thought I’d need 6 hours to do it right at the time).
It was tasty, but still tasted like store-bought bread. Having grown up on my grandmother’s homemade bread, I can tell you there is a big difference in flavor between bakery/homemade bread and store-bought bread. So, I picked up some fresh yeast and bread flour, and made my own last weekend. It was divine, even though something didn’t quite work right (I think it was the recipe and have since switched). My focus was on simplicity and avoiding added sugar.
And still is… I want to continue to stick with the basic formula of flour, water, yeast and salt. And maybe introduce some additional whole grains or seeds for texture, added nutritional value, and flavor.
The next batch I made midweek was a different recipe — essentially the same ratios, but a larger batch and a different manner of handling the ingredients. I ended up with four large balls of dough instead of two small balls, which allows me to test the idea that letting the dough mature in the fridge improves the texture and flavor.
The new batch had a better overall texture and outer crunch. Chewy instead of the ethereal quality of today’s mass-produced bread. A little more dense than what I remember of my grandmother’s, but I think she had added sugar to give a better rise. Also she punched it down and let it rise multiple times. I wanted chewy and dense.
Last night I cooked another loaf from that refrigerated batch on the pizza stone (they all have been on the stone) and the texture was even better. I’m still hoping to eventually get the larger occasional bubble for texture variation, which I don’t see much of with what I’ve done, but I’ll figure it out.
My next batch, I am thinking of moving away from white flour and adding in some rye, whole wheat and/or whole grains of some sort (sprouted or cracked). In the meantime, I might get a sourdough starter going to use in a few weeks and see how that changes what I’m making (I know what sourdough tastes like, but not how it impacts how you make your bread).
I am inclined to skip getting store-bought bread except to keep the kiddos happy for their sandwiches and toast. The cost of making about six loaves is about the same as buying two. And the effort is not that much more about 20 minutes prep and 30 minutes baking (and you can do other cooking while that happens, easily). For 20 minutes of effort, I can have fresh homemade bread all week long.
It’s not a hard trade-off to make, plus I have more control of what goes into my body.