Baking bread used to be a huge mystery for me. Sometimes it worked out just fine. Sometimes the bread was dense and heavy and not very appealing. Sometimes the crust was far too dark for me, particularly on the bottom. Sometimes the dough just wouldn't rise. *sigh*
But this Spring I attended a wonderfully welcoming and informative bread making class offered by the Virginia Urban Homesteaders League. The class was presented by a most patient and skillful bread baker who just happened to have her very own WOOD-FIRED OVEN in her backyard!
|The wood-fired oven at the bread class I attended|
What a treat! This lovely woman gave us the basics, the hands-on, the extra tips, the entire process... all while we enjoyed the fragrance of the bread baking in that amazing oven.
Later in the Spring (and after many months of discussion and visits to dealers) we purchased a Big Green Egg for our backyard. It's a wonderful invention! The website has this to say, "Widely acclaimed as the original American-designed ceramic cooker, the Big Green Egg was derived from an ancient clay cooking device known as a 'kamado'. Originally a clay vessel with a lid, today’s EGG® is a modern ceramic marvel known for producing amazing culinary results for novice and experts alike for over thirty years!" It's the perfect way to grill, smoke, roast, or even... be still my heart... BAKE!
Ok, so the Big Green Egg (aka: BGE) is NOT a wood-fired oven, built lovingly in my backyard, but it's close enough for me! Armed with the instructions and recipe from the bread class, all the necessary ingredients, and the BGE, I decided to give it a try.
The morning started with mixing the bread dough, letting it rise, kneading it gently, letting it rise, kneading it gently and shaping it into 3 loaves, and leaving it to rise once more.
Now to get the fire going! I began by adding natural hardwood charcoal to the BGE (not briquets or any man-made, pre-formed nonsense). I used the husband's Looftlighter to quickly light the fire. Next I put the plate setter in place with the legs pointing up over the fire inside the BGE. The grill was placed on the upright legs of the plate setter, and then the baking stone was place on top of the grill. I closed the lid and watched the temperature on the guage rise. When it got to 500 degrees, I was ready!
The beautifully risen loaves were waiting. I cut a slit on the top of two of the loaves and brought them out to the BGE. I opened the lid and placed the loaves side-by-side atop parchment paper circles on the hot baking stone. When I closed the lid, the temperature had dropped to about 350 degrees. As it started to rise, I incrementally closed the sliding door over the screen near the bottom of the BGE. Adjusting this door controls the air flow through the coals and out the top vent of the BGE, thus controlling the temperature. Keeping a close eye, I continued to adjust as needed to maintain a steady temperature of 375 - 400 degrees. I took a peek inside at the 30 minute mark (mostly because I had to see what was creating the heavenly aroma in my backyard) and the loaves were almost done. Minutes later I pulled the loaves out and inserted an instant read thermometer. A perfect internal temperature of 180 degrees had been reached in each of the loaves!
While the third loaf was baking in the BGE, I took a look at the bottom and top crusts of the first two loaves. They were just how I like them! I don't prefer a dark crust, but I do like it nicely golden brown.
This bread was the perfect toasting bread, sandwich bread, and "snacking" bread. We ate the first loaf almost immediately, continued to consume the second loaf through the week, and froze the third loaf for the days to come.
Here's the recipe I used, baking it in the BGE, of course, instead of the oven. As advised in the bread class, I weighed the ingredients on a kitchen scale. I also use King Arthur flour, Celtic grey sea salt, and raw, local honey.
Honey Oatmeal Bread
makes 2 large or 3 small loaves
6 cups (1 lb. 9 oz.) flour
2 cups (10 oz.) whole wheat flour
1/2 - 3/4 cup rolled oats
1 Tblspn. instant yeast (NOT active dry yeast)
4 tsp. (21 grams) fine sea salt
1/3 cup sunflower oil
1/2 cup honey
3 - 3 1/2 cups warm water
Mix all ingredients in a dough bucket. The dough should be shaggy and sticky. If the dough is too dry, add water by the tablespoon until it feels right. Let the dough rise with the lid loosely on top of the dough bucket until double in bulk. Pour onto a lightly floured surface and knead quite gently for a few minutes to firm up the dough (a floured dough scraper helps with this process). Try not to add too much flour. You need just enough to be able to work the dough without it being sticky. Put the dough back in the dough bucket, cover loosely, and let rise for about an hour. Repeat the kneading process. Let it rise for another hour. Knead and separate into 2 large or 3 small loaves. (If using pans, let loaves rise until they are just above the edge of the pans.) Use a sharp knife and make a slit down the center of the top loaf surface.
Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 35 minutes for smaller loaves, 45 minutes for larger loaves. Loaves are ready when the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees or they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom crust.