This Apple Cider Bread is a simple adaptation of the classic lean bread dough. A lean dough is a dough without any enrichment in the way of sugar or fat, and is the basis for classic rustic artisan breads the world over. Here's a little secret: you can exchange any part of this liquid in this recipe for something else. Water. Beer. Some buttermilk for tang. This bread dough is so versatile, and bakes up gorgeously, it will become a standard I'm-craving-hot-fresh-bread-but-didn't-pull-together-a-sourdough dough. I used my stand mixer for this bread since I was short on time, but knead by hand if you like. Its a wet dough, so you may need to oil your hands during the kneading stage.
A thing to note: after your first rise, handle this dough gently. You want to preserve the bubbles in the crumb, so don't go pounding it around while you're shaping it. Just enough to jostle those yeast next to some new sugar molecules and get them gorging again.
Apple Cider Bread
A Lean Bread for All Occasions by Megan Rose
adapted from Peter Reinhart's Classic French Bread
Makes 2 large loaves or 4 small baguettes
5 1/3 cups (24 oz.) unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons (.5 oz) salt
2 1/4 teaspoons (.25 oz) instant yeast
2 cups (16 oz.) apple cider, lukewarm (95 degrees)
Combine all your ingredients in a bowl or mixer. If using a mixer, mix with paddle attachment on the lowest speed for 1 minute; by hand mix with a spoon for 1 minute. The dough will form a coarse, shaggy ball. Let it rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes to allow gluten to begin to form.
Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low for 2 minutes, or knead by hand for 2 minutes. The dough will be smooth and supple, and tacky, but not sticky. Meaning, if you press your finger into it, your finger will stick, but release from the dough cleanly. If you press your finger into it, and it sticks, and takes away dough, add a bit of flour.
Whichever method you use, then knead the dough by hand for about 1 more minute, and transfer to a clean, lightly oiled bowl. This dough will be extremely smooth and soft, so be gentle you brutes!
Cover with plastic wrap, and either place it immediately in the refrigerator for an overnight rise, or leave it out until doubled, around 3 hours. But if it doubles earlier or later, go on the shaping phase.
If you refrigerate, remove the dough about 2 hours before baking. Working as gently as possible to keep those precious gases inside the dough, place on a floured surface and shape. Use a razor blade or sharp serrated knife to portion the dough, and then put in desired shapes. I formed boules by splitting the dough in half, gathering the corners, and pulling them together to form a tight skin on the exterior. Then place in a floured proofing basket with the seam side up. I only have one fancy-pants proofing basket, so for the other loaf, I just use my medium size mixing bowl.
**OH GOD! Do things like french terms and words like "proofing baskets" scare the bejeezus out of you! Don't fear! Here's a very friendly video about how to shape a round loaf, which is all a dang boule is anyhow.... You have the power!
Cover loosely, and let the shaped dough rise until 1 and a half times its original size, about 60-90 minutes. In the meantime, crank your oven as high as it will go, if you have a baking stone get it in there, and if you use a steam pan (for hearth-style baking) put that in the oven as well. If you don't have a stone, you can pre-heat a baking sheet for 20 minutes in a high oven to get a nice crust. Whatever you do, get the oven and the pan nice and hot.
When its time to bake, pull out your baking sheet or baking stone (or use a peel to transfer the dough), and gently overturn the dough onto the hot surface. Quickly score the top of the dough with a razor blade or sharp serrated knife so that it can expand and grow in the oven, and put the pan back in the blazing hot oven. If you use a steam pan, pour 1 cup of water into it (for a while, I just dumped a cup of water on my oven's bottom. It worked just fine!), and turn the oven temperature down to 450. (Note: if you don't have a thermometer in your oven yet, get one. Ovens always run wonky. I had an oven that regularly ran 125 degrees too hot!)
Bake for 12 minutes, then rotate the loaves and bake for another 12-25 minutes, until the crust is a rich golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when thumped on the bottom. Not sure? Take out your thermometer and measure: internal temperatures should be right around 200 degrees. Cool on a rack for at least 45 minutes before serving, and handle the bread gently when you do, as its lusciously soft.
Oh, right. And then put something irresistible on top (in this case, roasted butternut, carmelized onions, sauteed arugula, sage, and feta, topped with toasted squash seeds).
And put your slippers on and watch another episode of "Parks & Recreation". Old Man Winter: BRING IT.