I don’t eat much bread and consider myself more of a cook than a baker, so I’ve left baking duties to my dad for the past few years. Yesterday was a cold grey day. I was craving a kitchen project that would warm me up and fill the house with the comforting aromas of baking. It was time for me to learn the secret behind those nutty, crusty, moist loaves that make regular appearances in dad’s bread production rotation.
It turns out, there’s barely any work involved! The whole process requires over 24 hours, so it does require planning ahead. I was really surprised to realize, however, that the active time required from the baker doesn’t even add up to half an hour! Before starting, make sure you have a oven-safe pot with a lid and a spice/coffee grinder. Here’s what we did:
1) Coarsely grind 1.5 cups of seeds and/or nuts, and then toast your nut meal in a cast iron skillet until golden brown. We used hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds.
2) Mix 1.5 cups nut meal, 4.5 cups all-purpose white flour, 1/2 teaspoon yeast, and 2 teaspoons salt. In separate bowl, whisk 1/2 cup plain yogurt into 2.5 cups water. Mix wet and dry ingredients and cover mixing bowl with a plate or towel. At this point it is very wet and gooey!
3) Let sit for approximately 24 hours at room temperature.
4) “Knead.” Spatula the sticky mixture out onto a floured countertop, and fold over a couple times to release some of the air bubbles. Dough should be lightly coated with flour on the outside, but remain sticky and wet on the inside.
5) Lay out a dish towel on a clean countertop and sprinkle with sesame seeds and cornmeal (or whatever you want to cover the top of your loaf). Plop the “kneaded” dough onto the towel, put towel with dough into a clean bowl, and cover with the corners of the towel (see above). Let rise 1.5 hours.
6) Put your oven-safe covered pot (we use a 1-galon heavy stainless pot) into your oven and pre-heat to 500 degrees. Carefully take pot out of the oven, place on a heat-safe stable countertop, and uncover. This is the tricky part: flop your dough into the hot pot, trying to get it all into the bottom without sticking too much to the sides. Use a butter knife to clean up the walls of the pot if needed. Cover and put into the 500 degree oven. The steam in the pot is what creates your crispy crust. After 30 minutes, remove the pot’s cover and bake for another 25-3o minutes until golden brown.
Voila! Even if the smells make you crazy, let your bread rest and cool before slicing. Enjoy!