Best Dutch Oven Bread Recipe – the best hearth bread recipe we have ever tried. It is by far the easiest to make, and also the best tasting.
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A VISIT TO SULLIVAN STREET BAKERY IN NEW YORK TO LEARN THE SECRET TO THE BEST HEARTH BREAD
On a recent trip to New York, we stopped at Sullivan Street Bakery. The owner, Jim Lahey, is the author of a number of cook books, and is famous for his no-knead bread. We learned that the key to making bread this way is to use less yeast, more water, and to bake it in a Dutch oven. Using less yeast allows the bread to rise slowly and develop more flavor. Using more water lets you skip the kneading, because the bread does this on it’s own. And baking it in a Dutch oven keeps in the steam from the bread dough, which creates a crisp crust on the bread. Yes, we could have learned all this from his book on bread, but visiting the bakery was more fun (and, of course, then we read the book).
Back home, we developed a recipe of our own. We started with lessons learned from Jim Lahey, and then added a few other things we have learned about bread making.
WHY THIS IS THE BEST DUTCH OVEN BREAD RECIPE
This bread is the best hearth bread recipe we have ever tried, because it is by far the easiest to make, and it is also the best tasting.
This is the easiest bread we have ever made. Just mix the ingredients in the bowl, using a scale to measure. Then cover, and leave the bowl on the kitchen counter over night. The dough needs to rise slowly for 12 to 14 hours. This requires some planning so that the dough is not ready to be baked in the middle of the night. We make the dough at 6:00 pm, so it will be ready to form by 8:00 am, bake by 10:00 am, and is cool enough to cut by 12:00 for lunch.
This is also the best tasting hearth bread we have ever made. The key is to use all the best ingredients. There are only a few ingredients, so it’s important to use the best if you want the best Dutch oven bread. Then allowing it to rise slowly for 12 to 14 hours improves the taste.
There are lots of variations to this recipe by adding different ingredients. Just don’t add eggs. The dough will be rising at room temperature for over 12 hours, so it’s not safe to add eggs.
This recipe incorporates the latest science in bread making by using the autolyse method as well as a slow fermentation, no knead, added flavor and baking in a Dutch oven that mimics hearth baking.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND CREATING THE BEST DUTCH OVEN RECIPE
DUTCH OVEN -Steam during the baking process will cause the bread crust to become crispy. A home oven does not have a steam injector like some professional ovens. Even if steam is created, many ovens have a fan that would remove it. The French have traditionally used a bread cloche to reproduce the effect of a professional oven. A cloche is a ceramic or metal, often bell shaped vessel that is inverted over the bread as it bakes, keeping the steam from escaping. Baking the bread in a Dutch oven will have the same effect. It produces a round loaf, called a boule.
THE SCIENCE OF MAKING BREAD
It is important to understand a little of the science of making bread. There are very few ingredients, so each ingredient has a key roll. Brands will vary in quality and weight and consistency, so it is helpful to choose a quality brand for the main ingredients and stick with it as you change other ingredients in the bread.
FLOUR – KING ARTHUR BREAD FLOUR – The flour must be unbleached bread flour. Bread flour has more protein than all purpose flour, allowing more gluten to form and the bread to rise. Bleaching makes the flour whiter, but it interferes with the activity of the yeast. As a basic bread flour, we use King Arthur because it is made from high quality wheat and they have a tight control over the amount of protein that is in the flour, so baking with it gives consistent results. Then we use other flours to change the taste of the bread.
WATER – Using more water allows the gluten to form naturally without kneading the dough.
YEAST – SAF-INSTANT – The yeast must be good quality. We use saf-instant. Instant yeast is easier to work with and is more reliable because of how it’s processed. It doesn’t need to be soaked in water before using it, it can just be added to the mix, but soaking it will give it a head start.
SALT – DIAMOND KOSHER – We like the quality of Diamond Kosher salt and don’t want the iodine taste. The weight and structure of salt varies between brands so it is important to chose a salt and stick with it to be consistent. Salt will interfere with the activity of the yeast. This might be a problem, or it might be something that is desired in order to slow down the yeast. Mixing the salt with the flour before adding the yeast will help limit the effect.
BARLEY MALT SYRUP – Many of the same flavors of baked bread are found in barley malt syrup, so we usually add some to the dough to increase the flavor.
TIME – Time can also be considered an ingredient, and it makes a huge impact on the finished product. Over time, the starch in the flour converts to sugars and other flavors are released. This process requires about twelve hours. At the same time, the yeast is increasing and causing the dough to rise. Most recipes allow the bread to raise for only a few hours at room temperature. Slowing this process down by using less yeast or by putting the dough in a cold place to raise will allow the flavors to develop before the yeast has caused the dough to rise. This is easy to do at home just by using less yeast or putting the dough in the refrigerator. It can be much harder for a bakery to do because of the limited space in the refrigerator, so bakery bread is often made with a portion of refrigerated dough (a poolish or a biga) and a portion of fresh flour and water making the recipes more complicated. This explanation is an over simplification of a much more complicated process, but it does give a clearer picture of why this works.
METHOD FOR MAKING DOUGH
WEIGH THE INGREDIENTS – It is very difficult to accurately measure dry ingredients, like flour, in a volume container, like a measuring cup. The ingredients for baking bread need to be measured by weight, using a scale. And it is easier and more accurate to use grams instead of having to do the math on ounces and pounds.
USING THE AUTOLYSE METHOD – Adding water to the flour and then letting it rest for 20 to 60 minutes before adding the other ingredients. This allows the protein to relax and extend, becoming stretchy before the other ingredients are added. It also creates sugars for the yeast to consume, giving the bread a better rise. The King Arthur baking site has a really good explanation of the science behind the autolyse method.
WETTER DOUGH -The method for making this bread is to use more water. Using more water allows the gluten to form naturally without kneading the dough.
LONGER FERMENTATION – Chilling the dough or using less yeast will slow down the fermentation and allow the dough to rise for twelve hours. The slow rise improves the taste and eliminates the step of kneading the dough, so it’s easier. The dough can be made in the evening and baked the following day at a convenient time. We make up a batch of dough in just a short time with very little work. The next morning it is ready to shape and bake.
FOLDING – Carefully folding the dough in order to avoid deflating it.
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Photos by Tony Fitzgerald Photography