Average Joe Artisan Bread

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This probably won’t come as a shock to you, but I enjoy baked goods. This blog has mostly featured sweet baked goods, desserts and such. But not all baked things are sweet. (Even though most of them are sweeeeeeet.) This week’s baked good is one that is so simple and so basic, yet so wonderful. This week we talk about bread.

I love bread. How much do I love bread? I’ll let you in on a little secret. I often eat toasted rye bread with butter as a snack. Rye bread with caraway seeds of course. I know you can technically call it rye bread without caraway seeds, but I like to pretend that kind doesn’t exist. I  enjoy bread so much I also once ate a whole huge loaf of Caputo’s bread while standing on a street corner talking with friends. In case you don’t live in my neighborhood, Caputo’s is an awesome old-school Italian bakery. It’s worth a trip to Brooklyn just to have it. I used to live a block away, and every night walking home I would pass by and the smell of them baking bread was heavenly.

So couple the fact that I love bread with the fact that I’ve been baking a lot, and you come to the genesis of this week’s post. My wife got me a bread making kit as a gift a little while ago. As you may know my wife tries to stay away from wheat, so the irony wasn’t lost on either of us. It was very sweet of her. Even if the bread itself isn’t sweet. You know what I mean.

I had never really made bread before. Well, to be clear, I had never made it by hand. Growing up my parents had a bread maker, and we made bread with that. But calling making bread with a bread maker “making bread” is kinda like adding water to instant mashed potatoes and saying you made mashed potatoes. I mean, yes, you did. But, no, you didn’t.

This kit was the Average Joe Artisan Bread Kit. I have to say that this is a great kit. It comes with all the ingredients and equipment you need. There are detailed instructions where they go through it step-by-step, with pictures and commentary. I’m not a baking novice, but I appreciate the level of detail they went through to make sure it was easy to understand. And it helps a lot when you’re getting started, as you may not know what things are supposed to look like.

Simple ingredients.

Simple ingredients.

Part of the detail in the book that I really enjoyed was how much they discuss measuring. They talk about different ways of measuring and include imperial, metric, and baker’s percentage. Baker’s percentage was a new one for me. I had never heard of it before. (I’m only an amateur after all.) They encourage you to use metric so it’s more precise. It does make a difference.

I did the first part one night. I mixed the water and yeast. I added the flour and salt. I mixed again, covered it, and let it sit to rise. It was very easy. It only took a few minutes to do. It then needed to sit for 18-24 hours, so I let it rise and planned to finish up the following evening.

Ready to rise overnight.

Ready to rise overnight.

After letting it rise overnight and then some (22 and a half hours to be exact), I was ready for the next part of this bread making extravaganza. At this point, the dough looked like a blobby mess. This was a good thing! That was how it was supposed to look. (I confirmed this by referring to their handy-dandy pictures.)

A big blobby mess.

A big blobby mess.

I then scraped the dough out of the bowl. Easy. I formed the dough as they described. Basically squooshing it in on itself a few times. Easy. I put some bread dust into the bread pot and put the bread in. Super easy. I let it rise some more. Nothing to do there. While it was rising, I even had time to bake some sweet potatoes. (In the not too distant future, you’ll hear about the recipe I used the sweet potatoes in.)

After it was done rising, I nudged it a bit into the center of the pot. They suggested doing so, in order to keep the bread from attaching to the side of the pot, which would create a challenging mess to clean up. They give you lots of ideas for what you might want to do to top off the bread: olive oil, salt, bread dust, etc. I ended up sprinkling some bread dust on top. I then scored it using the included baker’s blade. Scoring just meant cutting a few lines in the top of the dough. I then covered it back up and baked it. All very easy.

Ready to bake.

Ready to bake.

Just so you know, when I say “bread pot”, I say that because that’s what this bread was designed to be made with, and that’s what they refer to. I didn’t have an appropriate pot handy. So, I improvised. I used a large aluminum baking dish, which I covered with aluminum foil. If how the bread turned out is any indication, and I would dare say it is, the improvised “bread pot” worked out well.

The bread smelled amazing while it was baking. And it really came out great. It looked great. It smelled great. It even sounded great. You could hear it crackling as it cooled. While you could dig into it earlier, ideally they suggested leaving it to cool for six hours. Since it came out of the oven at 12:30am, I wasn’t planning on eating it right away. (Although I definitely thought about it.) I left it overnight to cool. I had actually made it for Thanksgiving, and this was the night before. So it was ready in plenty of time for Thanksgiving dinner.

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Fresh out of the oven.

Yes, I realize that Thanksgiving was a while ago, but I always bake these recipes way ahead of writing about them. Thanksgiving turned out to be a good time for the bread in any case, as it was delicious. We ate it up. Some of it plain, to sop up the gravy and such from our plates. And some of it with a delicious herbed butter that my wife had made. We finished off much of it that night, even with all the bounty of Thanksgiving. What was left I stored in a paper bag as they suggested, and that was devoured over the next day or so.

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There’s something primal about baking bread. I bake lots of delicious things, but they’re often fancy, involved delicacies. Wonderful in their own right, but you wouldn’t live off them. (I don’t suggest taking that as a challenge.) But bread! Bread is so basic and fundamental to our culture. Learning how to bake bread seems akin to learning how to make fire or inventing the wheel or something like that. Obviously, I didn’t invent bread or fire or the wheel. But I did make bread from scratch. And it was delicious. And very fulfilling. And filling, for that matter.

What makes it even more amazing to me is the simplicity of it all. The kit comes with all the ingredients and accoutrements that you need. Flour, yeast, salt, bread dust. A scraper and a baker’s blade. That makes the kit kind of awesome. But if you wanted to make it yourself, it wouldn’t be hard to source the ingredients. They’re all very simple. (Okay, I had never heard of bread dust before, but they say you can just as easily use corn meal.) But from such simple ingredients comes something so wonderful. It’s like it’s greater than the some of its parts.

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The recipe I tried was their basic recipe, what they call “The Golden Standard”. But the book has a bunch of other recipes, including one for pizza crust. Seeing what success I had with it, and how much I enjoy bread, I’d like to try making it again, and trying some variations. Bread in the store is plentiful, cheap, and usually pretty good. But none of that beats making your own bread. If you haven’t tried doing so yet, I sincerely suggest doing so. If you enjoy bread, it can be well worth your while.

Have you ever baked bread? Have you tried this kit or others? A bread maker? A recipe handed down from grandma? How much do you love bread, and how much do you love the bread you made yourself? Let me know in the comments below!

Recipe courtesy of Average Joe Artisan Bread Kit.*

*Normally here is where I would link to the original recipe, or for recipes like this one that are out of a book, the author’s site. Unfortunately, I can’t find a current link to this kit. There is a website that is referred to in several places, but that website no longer seems to be associated with this kit. If you find a current link, please let me know. I would love to share it with everyone.

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