It’s the time of year when the soup kettle, the chili pot and the stew in the slow cooker are all bubbling.
All you need to complete a meal is a nice loaf of warm bread.
Before you race off to buy one, consider taking one hot from your oven. It’s easier than you think.
New York pastry chef Nick Malgieri’s new book, “Nick Malgieri’s Bread” (Kyle Books), shows just how effortless it can be to turn out a perfect loaf of bread.
Malgieri’s recipe for Easiest Home-Baked Bread lives up to its name.
“What I love about it is you can make this bread in the afternoon and serve it for dinner,” he said.
The recipe takes about 2 1/2 hours from start to finish, including baking time.
“Basic bread is just flour, water, yeast and salt,” he said, explaining the simple ingredients.
Malgieri, director of the baking program at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, said he is always surprised by how intimidated home cooks can become when a recipe calls for yeast.
“It’s as though yeast is, I don’t know – it’s not poison,” he said, noting the fear factor.
For years, American bread recipes contained so much flour that they produced dense loaves with little flavor and character. Malgieri said that for his book he developed bread recipes for working with today’s finely granulated yeasts that are foolproof.
The single biggest cause of failure for cooks working with yeast is beginning by dissolving the yeast into water that is too hot, he said. Today’s instant and rapid-rise yeast products are so finely granulated that they will dissolve in lukewarm tap water. When using popular brands of yeast available in grocery stores, instant, rapid rise and bread machine formulations are interchangeable in recipes.
Work with an unbleached bread flour for best results, and if your water is very hard from excess chemicals, consider using bottled spring water for recipes to avoid giving bread a mineral taste.
Malgieri’s bread requires no pre-ferment or starter, and the gluten begins to develop within the first 2 minutes of mixing. A 15-minute rest and another 2 minutes in the mixer produces a dough that is smooth and elastic.
The dough gets a 30-minute rest, and then a simple shaping from two folds and a turn, followed by another 30-minute rest.
Turning the dough helps to distribute the yeast better, makes the dough more elastic and imparts much more smoothness to it, Malgieri said.
“It really is easy to do,” he added.
After the second rest, the dough is formed into its classic round shape, or boule, and left to rest again to double in size. The skin is tightened by pulling the dough from all around its perimeter into its center, and rounded by pushing against the bottom of the dough.
After a final 30-minute rest, the dough round is pressed down to deflate it slightly, a move that will keep the center from puffing up too much while baking and looking like a basketball, rather than a classic round boule, Malgieri noted.
He mists the bread with water before baking to ensure a crispy crust. Total baking time is about 30 minutes.
Malgieri stressed that it is important to test for doneness with an instant-read thermometer, which he plunges into the center of the round. The bread is done when it reaches 200 degrees internally.
The crust will soften as the bread cools, but the loaf can be reheated in a 350-degree oven for 5 minutes to crisp up the crust again before serving.