So I decided to try my hand at baking bread. I’ve made a few conventional loaves of white bread before so I thought I’d challenge myself with some really crusty bread. My two favorite kinds of fancy baguette-type breads are olive loaves and garlic loaves. I had a bunch of garlic laying around in my kitchen so I decided to go for a fave. Baking bread is actually pretty easy. It just takes a decent amount of time. I think if I didn’t have so much on my plate, with school and work, I’d bake my own bread at least once a week. But for now, lovely loaves like this one will have to remain a special kind of treat.
3 1/3 C all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt (I use a fine grain, non-iodized salt)
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (don’t use instant, or rapid-rise!)
1 1/3 C warm water (about 100 degrees)
1 Tbsp olive oil, plus 1/2 tsp for greasing the bowl
2 heads of garlic, peeled
1/2 C ice cubes, or a spray bottle filled with water
Mix the flour and salt together in a small-ish bowl and set it aside for a second.
Whisk together the yeast and warm water in a large bowl. Wait 30 seconds, then whisk again just to make sure the yeast gets fully dissolved. Next whisk in the olive oil.
Add half of the flour to the large bowl, mixing with a rubber spatula to make a paste. Add half of the remaining flour and mix it in by using the spatula to repeatedly scrape the bottom of the bowl, folding upward. Do the same while you add the rest of the flour and keep folding until all the flour is absorbed.
Cover the bowl with either a clean kitchen towel or loosely with some plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes.
While the dough is resting, wash you spatula and get ready, because you’re going to do the whole folding thing again, making sure that there are absolutely no dry bits anywhere. Cover the dough again and let it rest for another 10-15 minutes.
Lightly oil a bowl large enough to hold twice the volume of dough you have right now.
Scrape your dough onto a floured work surface. Flour your hands (you really don’t need to flour the top of the dough, I promise), and pat the dough into a rough rectangle.
Sprinkle the garlic on top of your dough. Feel free to chop the garlic… or not. I like big chunks of it, but there’s no shame in spreading the love.
Now fold the narrow ends of your dough in, so that your dough will be folded in thirds (there will be three layers). Turn the dough 90 degrees, so that the seam in facing you, and fold your dough into thirds again.
Invert the dough into your oiled bowl, cover it with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and let the dough rest for 15 minutes. Then take it out and fold it the same way all over again!
If you need to, lightly oil the bowl again and put the dough back in. Then turn the dough over so the other side of it gets oiled, too. Cover it up, and let the dough rise for 45-60 minutes, until it has doubled in size.
Invert the dough onto a floured surface, then flip it over so that what was once the smooth top of your rising dough is facing up towards you.
Gently round the dough by using your palms to stretch the sides and fold then under. This will shape your dough into a ball. You just don’t want to deflate your dough so be nice!
Now cover the dough with a kitchen towel (you don’t need to put in back in the bowl) and let it rest for 10 minutes.
Uncover the dough and gently press it to flatten it a bit (it’s all about timing, trust me). Lightly flour the top of your dough and the fingertips of one of your hands. Use those fingers to make an opening in the center of your dough. Once your fingertips hit the work surface, start swirling your hand so that you can simultaneously rotate the dough, and widen the hole you’ve just made.
Put some parchment paper on a cookie sheet or a round pizza pan (something that is at least 12″ across). Transfer your dough to that and use both hands to widen the hole in your dough to about 5″ in diameter. Cover with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise for about an hour, until it has almost doubled in size.
About 20 minutes before the dough is done rising, set one rack in the lower third of your oven, and set a second rack right below that one. If you have a cast-iron skillet, set it on the bottom of those two racks.Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. (I will warn you, the point with the skillet is to get it smoking hot. If you have overly sensitive smoke detectors in your house, now might be the time to disable them)
No cast-iron skillet? No problem! I’ll tell you in a second what to do with your spray bottle of water.
Take the towel off of your dough and use either and a single-edged razor, an X-Acto knife, or a pair of scissors to make four diagonal slashes in the outside skin of the very top of the loaf (I’m still trying to figure out the best way to do this).
Place the pan in the oven and then place the ice cubes into the skillet. Quickly shut the oven door and don’t open it for at least five minutes.
If you’re not using a skillet, spray water all over the sides of the oven, creating steam. Quickly shut the oven door. Repeat the spraying five minutes later.
If you use the skillet and ice cubes method, you don’t need to worry about your dough until it’s done baking, 40-45 minutes later.
Set your lovely garlic ring on a rack to cool and then enjoy!