On Tuesday last week, to go along with the leftover Cheese, Spinach, and Mushroom Manicotti I’d made, I decided to bake some bread. Now, hubby loves, loves, LOVES my basic yeast rolls (especially when I make little mini loaves out of them), but while that is a good and versatile dough that I make fairly often, with the meals I knew we’d be having in the rest of the week, I thought that making a large, lovely Country Loaf would be the most versatile.
Most yeast breads are pretty straightforward, with the biggest concerns being temperature (liquids not too hot or too cool and having a pleasantly warm — not too hot, not too cool — spot for the bread to rise) and allowing time (indirect for you) for the bread to rest and rise as needed.
This recipe is from my Betty Crocker “The Big Red” Cookbook. It calls for simple, basic ingredients: yeast, water, salt, bread flour, a teensy bit of sugar, and a small amount of oil (I use olive oil; canola oil would work, too).
Bread flour differs from other flours in that it is higher in protein than all-purpose flour. The protein produces more gluten, which gives breads baked with it different structure and more volume than all-purpose flour would do. If a recipe calls specifically for bread flour (or for a combo of bread flour and all-purpose flour), that’s what you’ll want to use to assure the ideal texture.
When a dish is referred to as country or rustic, that usually means it’s something hearty, simple, and delicious — perfect for a family meal, but also suitable for entertaining, depending upon the dish and the event. Being a country gal myself, I’m all for simple, hearty, yummy foods. (Go on, give the video a listen. You know you want to! There’s no one quite like the late John Denver, bless him.)
Country Loaf is a lovely, versatile bread. A low-fat bread, it’s tasty fresh from the oven, with just a bit of butter or dipped in seasoned olive oil. It makes fantastic sliced garlic bread, French toast, sandwiches, or toaster pizzas, as well as divine bread pudding or homemade croutons.
So go on, make yourself some Country Loaf — I promise you, it tastes as yummy as it smells!
Country Loaf (Makes 1 loaf)
- About 5 to 5 1/2 cups of bread flour
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) regular or quick active dry yeast
- 2 cups very warm (120 – 130F) water (hot from the tap)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or canola oil (I use olive oil)
- 2 teaspoons salt
1. You start off by making a “sponge”: whisk together the yeast, 2 cups of flour, and 1 teaspoon sugar. Stir in hot water and whisk (or electric mixer on low) for about 1 minute, scraping bowl frequently. Cover the bowl tightly with cling wrap, and leave it in a warm spot (I usually turn my oven on warm, then turn it off and place the dough there to rise; if I’m baking something in the oven, I’ll place the dough on top of the warm range top to rise). Let the sponge work its magic for an hour or so while you go off and do other things — watch TV, answer client e-mails, pet your dog, brush your cat, play with your kid, do some housecleaning, take a bubble bath…whatever. When you come back to it, you’ll find something that looks rather like this:
Whenever I see a bread sponge, it’s all I can do to keep from saying “It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s alive!!”
Well, okay, I don’t always refrain myself — I actually do say that sometimes. Out loud. Even if no one else is there to hear it — or, perhaps even worse, when someone else is! 😉
2. To this sponge, stir in the 2 tablespoons of oil (I like to use olive oil) and the 2 teaspoons of salt. Stir in enough flour, 1/2 to 1 cup at a time, until you achieve a soft, smooth dough (about 2 to 2 1/2 more cups of flour). Sprinkle out about 3/4 to 1 cup of bread flour and knead the dough until it’s smooth, springy, and no longer sticky.
3. Lightly grease a large bowl. (I like to use butter-flavored Crisco, but olive or canola oil would work, as would butter or margarine. As this bread dough is low in fat, I would not recommend using cooking spray.) Place dough in bowl and turn the dough to grease all sides. Cover bowl loosely with cling wrap and let it rise in a warm place for about an hour — it will almost double in bulk and if you press your fingers into the dough, the indentations will remain.
4. Lightly grease an un-insulated cookie/baking sheet. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and gently shape into an even, round ball without releasing all of the bubbles in the dough. Stretch the sides of the dough downward to make a smooth top. Place loaf with smooth side up on the baking sheet. Spray with cool water. Cover loosely with cling wrap and let rise in a warm place for 45 to 60 minutes.
5. Place an 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ pan filled to about 1/2″ from the top with hot water in the center of the bottom rack of your oven. Preheat your oven to 425F.
6. Spray loaf with cool water. Sprinkle lightly with flour — Betty Crocker says this gives the loaf a “country quality” 😉 Carefully cut three 1/4″ deep slashes on top of the loaf with a sharp serrated knife.
7. Bake loaf for 35 to 40 minutes — until loaf is deep golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from pan and allow to cool on a wire rack. (I place a clean, smooth dish towel on my rack.)