The Best of Bread!

A 70’s rock band, a colloquialism for money, or a sandwich platform – any way you slice it, it’s delicious!

And it turns out bread is also a great vehicle for getting to know people better! Friday Jeff and I had the pleasure of spending the day at the beautiful home of a great couple – Darrell and Donna – that we know from church.  They invited us to their home to learn Darrell’s techniques for no-knead bread making after hearing me bemoan the fact that I don’t have the best luck baking bread.

We had no idea what a treat awaited us!  We arrived at their house just after 1:00 pm and didn’t leave until after 8:00.  The time flew – as it does when you’re sharing stories and laughing and learning…and eating!

Donna and Darrell – and Bernietheir adorable dog, Bernie – made us feel welcome from the moment we walked through the door.  Our first order of business was some coffee and homemade molasses cookies and chocolate chip cookies – you know, nourishment for the work ahead.  After the cookies we got down to business.

Darrell really has the bread baking down to a science – and it’s not surprising since he makes bread at least every other week. He has been using the same basic recipe for no-knead bread that Donna found in Cook’s Illustrated magazine several years ago.  Of course, over time he has tweaked and tested and made it his own.

Darrell had three batches of bread dough – one white, one whole wheat, and one cranberry – already rising AND he mixed up four more batches while we were there so we could see how each is done from beginning to end!  He uses a digital scale to precisely weigh his flour.  He explained that until he started using the scale his results were not consistent because the results depended on how he packed his measuring cups with flour….a great reminder for all of us when baking!

When he was measuring his liquid ingredients, Darrell explained that he has tried using beer from all price points.  Surprisingly he has found that “cheap beer” [Darrell’s expression] yields the best results.  You can’t argue with that – especially with the price of groceries these days.

After we mixed four batches of dough and they began to rise; we turned our attention to the three that had been rising overnight.  Darrell expertly fit two dutch ovens on the center rack of the oven to preheat to 500 degrees F.  He then scraped the white bread dough onto the counter, which was dusted with flour.  He wet his hands and shaped the dough (which took under a minute – seriously no kneading) and set it to rest on a square of parchment paper.  He covered the dough with plastic wrap and repeated the process with the whole wheat dough.    They rested while the dutch ovens preheated.

Jeff asked Darrell about the purpose of the parchment and Darrell explained that it makes transferring the dough from the counter into the dutch oven, and the finished loaves out of the dutch oven onto cooling racks, much easier.

After the dutch ovens were preheated.  Darrell dusted the tops of the shaped white and wheat bread loaves with wheat bran (for a nice finished look) and cut slits in the top.  The whole wheat was marked with an ‘X’ and the white was marked with just a straight line.  Donna explained to us that the one with the line would take on a more oblong shape – which is better for sandwiches.  I TOLD YOU THEY HAVE THIS DOWN TO A SCIENCE!

The loaves were quickly and neatly transferred into the dutch ovens using the parchment “stretchers,” the oven temp was lowered to 425 degrees F, and the lids were placed tightly onto the dutch ovens.  They baked for 30 minutes with the lids on and then for 20 additional minutes without the lids.  I wish there was a way to photograph (I know it wouldn’t be called a “photograph”) smells.  The whole house smelled amazing while the bread was baking.

Incidentally, as all this baking was going on – Darrell was also smoking some ribs on the charcoal grill out back.  So every now and again he went to tend to them.  He has many talents – in fact, he shared with us that he and his co-workers frequently BBQ ribs for lunch!

After removing the lids from the dutch ovens in which the white and whole wheat were baking, Darrell tended to the cranberry bread dough.  He simply dusted the top with flour (rather than wheat bran) and marked it with an “X.”  Then it rested – like the others – on parchment and covered with plastic wrap.

After the white and whole wheat loaves were removed from the oven, Darryl reheated one dutch oven back to 500 degrees F and then transferred the cranberry bread into it for baking.

You would expect that in seven hours there would have been lulls in the conversation; but there were not.  We had lively discussions, enjoyed laughing at Bernie’s little underbite, toured the house (Donna has craft room of which I am envious and their home has a guest room that I truly believe is the most welcoming guest room I’ve ever seen), listened to a webcast and music, looked at cookbooks, and……

At about 6:00 we ate a wonderful dinner.  Darrell made the ribs, Donna made cole slaw and Jeff and I brought macaroni and cheese.  Just when we thought we couldn’t eat another morsel, Darrell cut into the cranberry bread and we couldn’t resist!  Oh….my….goodness!  I wish I could give you samples on the blog!  It was amazing.  The interior of the bread had a beautiful texture and the cranberries plumped up during baking.

And one final surprise – Jeff and I departed Darrell and Donna’s house with two loaves of bread.  The white and the wheat that had been baked as part of our learning process. AND, not only did we get to take them home, but Darrell also sliced them for us – with a deli slicer he bought at Ollie’s specifically for slicing bread!  What a fantastic idea.  Each slice is exactly the same width and the slicer moves easily through the crusty exterior of the bread – like a knife through softened butter!  Ingenious!

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, Darrell and Donna!  For your truly welcoming hospitality and your inspiration not only for bread baking, but for innovation as well!

PS….we couldn’t resist having toast for breakfast yesterday – Jeff had white and I had wheat.  We both had a thin schmear of peanut butter and were absolutely happy!

Click here to see all the pictures from a wonderful day of baking with friends.

3 thoughts on “The Best of Bread!

  1. Pingback: Souper Bowl MMXIII | mmm mmm mmm

  2. Jan and Jeff, Thank you for gracing us with your company on Friday. We had such a good time. You did a wonderful job on your post! Looking forward to future visits!

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