European-Style Crusty Bread

On Long Island, this bread would be called really good Italian bread. 🙂 The King Arthur Flour website titled it “The Easiest Loaf of Bread You’ll Ever Bake.” I think this may be true!

My husband is a bread guy, so I’ve made one of our favorite loaves a few times in the bread machine during this self-quarantine. It may be a little bit easier to use a bread machine, but not significantly. This loaf was a nice change- completely different- crusty on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.

This simple recipe is from King Arthur Flour.com. I weighed the flour, made the dough in a stand mixer, and used a proofing oven. My daughter declared that it was the best bread she’s ever had in her life!

Yield: 2 loaves

Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

  1. Weigh your flour; or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess.
  2. Stir together all of the ingredients (except the cornmeal) in a large bowl, starting with 542g (4 1/2 cups) of the flour. Use a sturdy spoon, or your stand mixer equipped with the beater paddle. Mix until everything comes together in a rough, shaggy mass of dough.
  3. If you’re using your stand mixer, switch to the dough hook and knead the dough at medium speed for about 7 minutes, until it’s smooth, elastic, and feels a bit bouncy. If the dough doesn’t form a ball that clears the sides of the bowl, sprinkle in just enough of the additional flour to make this happen. (I sprinkled in 1-2 additional tablespoons of flour.) (*If you’re kneading the dough by hand, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, using some of the additional 1/2 cup of flour called for. Fold the far edge of the dough back over on itself towards you, then press it away from you with the heels of your hands. Rotate the dough 90°. Repeat this fold-press-rotate process with a rhythmic, rocking motion for about 6 minutes. When fully kneaded, the dough will be bouncy and smooth.*)
  4. Lightly grease a bowl with cooking spray. Place the dough in the bowl; turn to coat.
  5. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or another airtight cover, and let the dough rise at room temperature until it’s doubled in size, about 1 to 2 hours. If your kitchen is particularly cold (below 65°F), place the bowl of dough in your turned-off oven with the oven light on. (I used a proofing oven.)
  6. Gently deflate the dough and cut it in half. Pat each half into a rough 6” x 8” oval.
  7. Working with one piece of dough at a time, grab a short side and fold the dough like a business letter (one short side into the center, the other short side over it). Use the heel of your hand to press the open edge of the “letter” closed.
  8. Gently pat and roll the dough into a log about 10” long. Repeat with the remaining piece of dough.
  9. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; generously sprinkle with cornmeal. The cornmeal will keep the bread from sticking and give it a crunchy bottom crust.
  10. Place the loaves, seam-side down, on the prepared baking sheet.
  11. Let the loaves rise, lightly covered with greased plastic wrap, for 45 minutes. They should become nicely puffy. Gently poke your index finger into the side of one of the loaves; if the indentation remains, your bread is ready to bake. (I used a proofing oven.)
  12. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 450°F, preferably on convection.
  13. For extra-crusty crust and a great rise, add steam to your oven as follows: While the oven is preheating, place an empty cast-iron frying pan on the lowest rack. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in the microwave or on the stovetop.
  14. When your bread is risen, use a sieve to dust the loaves with a thin coat of flour. Then make three or four 1/2” deep diagonal slashes in each loaf; these slashes will help the bread rise evenly as it bakes. (Next time, I plan to cut the slashes deeper.)
  15. Place the bread in the oven and pour the boiling water into the frying pan below. Quickly shut the oven door. Wear good oven mitts during this process to shield your hands and arms from the steam.
  16. Bake the bread for 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and a loaf sounds hollow to the touch when you tap it on the bottom. The interior temperature of the bread should register at least 190°F on a digital thermometer.
  17. Turn the oven off, crack the door open, and allow the bread to remain inside for 5 additional minutes; this helps keep the crust crisp.
  18. Remove the bread from the oven and cool it on a rack. It’s best not to cut into the bread until it’s cooled down a bit; cutting into hot bread can negatively affect its texture.
  19. Store the bread, well-wrapped, at room temperature for a couple of days. Freeze for longer storage.

Note: An equal amount of active dry yeast can be substituted for instant yeast. Add it along with the other ingredients, no additional proofing is necessary.

Corn Tortillas

I did it! I have been talking about making homemade tortillas for a while. I have read several encouraging posts making the process sound so simple, but an article about tacos in the New York Times pushed me to finally do it. For a taco lover, this article is heaven! I want to try every recipe. 🙂 I made these tortillas to accompany Black Bean and Roasted Poblano Tacos. The tortillas were delicious and made the tacos much more special.

I hesitated to make tortillas because I was apprehensive about pressing the dough. It was so easy! I shouldn’t have worried. The secret was to line the tortilla press with a ziplock bag. What did surprise me was how time-consuming it was to cook the tortillas- using two skillets expedited this process somewhat. I kept them warm, wrapped in a kitchen towel, in my new tortilla warmer. 🙂 Yay! This recipe was adapted from Gran Cocina Latina by Maricel Presilla, via the New York Times. I may add a pinch of salt to the dough next time.

Total Time: About 1 hour
Yield: 15 tortillas
  • 12 ounces nixtamalized corn flour, like Maseca
  • coarse salt, to taste, optional (I used 1/2 tsp)

  1. Cut 2 10-inch squares of thick plastic from a gallon-size Ziploc freezer bag and set aside to line an 8-inch tortilla press.
  2. Place the corn flour in a large bowl. Slowly add 2 1/4 cups hot tap water, kneading it in with your fingers. Once all the water has been added, knead until dough is smooth, 3 to 5 minutes. The masa should be very soft but not sticky, about the consistency of Play-Doh. If it is too dry, work in more water, 2 tablespoons at a time. If it is too wet, continue kneading until it dries out a bit or knead in additional corn flour. Masa dries out very quickly, so once it is at the right consistency, keep it covered with a damp kitchen towel.
  3. Heat a pancake griddle or a heavy nonstick or cast-iron skillet (or 2) over medium heat. The goal is a steady medium-low heat.
  4. Pinch off about 2 ounces masa and roll into a ball about 1 3/4 inches in diameter. Flatten lightly between your palms to make a 2 1/2-inch round. Place one sheet of plastic on the bottom of the open tortilla press and place the dough in the center. Cover with the other sheet of plastic and press the lever gently but firmly to flatten the dough. Don’t crank the lever down as hard as you can because the tortilla will be too thin. 
  5. Flip the tortilla (still in the plastic) and press lightly again into an even 6- to 6 1/2-inch round. Place the tortilla (still in the plastic) in your left palm. Use your other hand to peel off the plastic, then invert the tortilla onto your right palm and peel off the other plastic. Gently release the tortilla onto the cooking surface.
  6. Watching carefully, cook just until one of the edges begins to appear dry, 15 to 25 seconds. (If you overcook the tortilla at this step, it will not cook properly.) Flip the tortilla and cook on the second side just until it is speckled with brown spots, 1 to 2 minutes, rotating it once. Flip the tortilla back to the first side. The tortilla might begin to puff at this stage. When it is just beginning to brown on the bottom, flip again, back to the second side, and move to a cooler part of the cooking surface, toward an edge. Let the tortilla finish cooking there until most of it appears translucent when held up to the light, 30 to 60 seconds
  7. Stack cooked tortillas in a basket lined with a large napkin that you can fold over the top, which will let them continue steaming, keeping them soft and pliable. If not using immediately, store cooked tortillas in the refrigerator, well wrapped. To reheat, place directly on a hot surface or wrap in a damp towel and heat in the microwave for a few seconds.

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