Soul Food

Nothing speaks to me on a primal level more than a dense, tangy loaf of crusty bread; it’s appealing, satisfying and comforting, a tangible link with the past when bread had revered status, and it wasn’t about the carbs. I am completely in awe of the talent and dedication involved in creating a well crafted loaf. Upon reviewing the possibilities of producing a fool proof first-rate version at home from I was instantly intrigued: billed as an ‘artisan no-knead bread baked in a dutch oven’.

Thanks to its originator, Magnolia Bakery in Manhattan, this formula is approachable for the most novice baker. The dough requires a pittance of ¼ tsp. yeast with a first rise at room temperature taking up to 18 hours; this slow process produces an active highly fermented biga of sorts. Baking the dough in a heavy covered pot (a dutch oven) produces the moisture necessary for a dense crust and intense crumb.

Call it providence, about this time my sister-in-law steps forward bearing an unwanted dutch oven – with no inducement on my part! My mind is already processing the necessary time requirements for the ‘artisan no-knead bread baked in a dutch oven’. I start my dough before dinner; it takes minutes to whip up and set it aside for its overnight rise. By mid morning the dough is light, the surface dappled with bubbles. Since this is a wet, somewhat awkward dough, a dough scraper helps to gently move it about. A couple more flip-roll-and-rest sessions and by late morning my bread is in the oven sending off a marvelous, yeasty perfume. I can hardly bear not lifting the lid for a quick peek but resist. Finally, it’s baked and cool enough for lunch. Well, actually, it was lunch.

Note to self: Plan ahead.
I’ve made this loaf several times now, using different flour combinations, adding seeds, nuts, herbs and various flavorings to satisfy my mood or complement a meal. With my recent glut of garlic whistles, this week’s solution was obvious: French Onion-Garlic Bread, pungent with green garlic and Parmesan cheese and topped with caramelized onion and more cheese – truly outstanding. In lieu of garlic whistles, substitute sautéed garlic slivers.

French Onion-Garlic Artisan Bread
Inspired by Manhattan Sullivan Street Bakery
3 cups flour
1/4 tsp active yeast, or quick rise
1 3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups water
olive oil for coating
extra flour, cornmeal, or wheat bran, etc for dusting

Filling Additions: 1 Tbsp olive oil, 2 Tbsp chopped garlic whistles or fresh garlic slivers, 3 Tbsp. chives, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese,grated
Topping Additions: 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 sweet onion sliced in half through center and cut into strips, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
Tools: 1 or 2 bowls, wooden spoon, scraper, large cotton towel, 2 3/4 qt. dutch oven

Ahead prepare any additions to bread: saute 2 Tbsp chopped garlic whistles or garlic slivers in olive oil to soften.
For bread dough: In a medium bowl combine all of the dry ingredients, including dough additions of garlic, chives and cheese. Using spatula add water and stir for 30 – 60 seconds to incorporate and form a loose wet dough, it will be sticky and shaggy.

Lightly coat the inside of a second medium bowl with olive oil, place dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let dough rest at room temperature (70 degrees) for 12-18 hours,until light and bubbles form on surface.

On lightly floured surface, gently turn out dough sprinkling lightly with flour and fold once or twice. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rest 15 minutes on the work surface, or in a bowl.
Next, shape the dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel with flour, cornmeal, or bran; place dough seam side down onto the towel and dust again. Cover the dough with the towel and let rise 1-2 hours at room temperature, until more than doubled in size.

At least 30 minutes before dough is ready, put cast-iron pot (or stoneware) in oven; preheat oven to 450 degrees. Remove pot from oven when it has been heated. Carefully slide hand under towel and flip dough over and into hot pot; it will look messy. Cover with lid, bake 30 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare Caramelized Onion Topping: in medium saute pan heat oil and onion, saute over medium heat about 20 minutes until onion begin to turn golden. Allow to cool.
After bread has baked 30 minutes, remove from oven, sprinkle top evenly with caramelized onion and grated Parmesan cheese. Return to oven and reduce heat by 25 degrees, bake uncovered until loaf is browned, 15 – 30 minutes more. Remove pot to wire rack to cool briefly; carefully turn bread out of pot to cool on rack. . Makes one 1 1/2 pound loaf. ~~

2 thoughts on “Soul Food

  1. Carole-Soul Food, Bread & a dutch oven sounds like my kind of cooking. While Janet & I are low carbing it, we make frequent exceptions. If we are going to stray why not just break the bread for a full meal.I will modify and cook it outdoors using charcoal to see if it can be added to my camping recipes. Thanks for all your encouragement for blogging. Great stuff! Dennis


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