Both of us appreciate a good bread. From the wonderful Swedish rye baked by our neighbor Inga Peterson back in Wisconsin to the beautiful crusty Genzano loaves in Italy, bread is a wonderful tasting experience. Who can forget the pizza crust at Chris Bianco's pizzeria in Phoenix or the Navajo earth-oven loaves from New Mexico. With this sort of passive passion in mind it is only natural to explore our own baking skills.
I had always found bread making somewhat intimidating especially after a few less than successful attempts. Nevertheless. after We spent several days in Italy a few years ago, I came home determined to conquer basic bread baking. I launched into book research, equipment acquisition, and experiments. Now, I have baked a lot of bread for ourselves as well as for family and friends.
The technique I have developed for myself is pretty basic. I have found little need for expensive mixers or fancy ingredients.
No doubt the real artisans would find fault with what I do but I think our results are pretty damn good and an excellent place to start from. Speaking of starting, my ingredient list includes flour, yeast, salt, and water. Nothing else goes into the basic formulation. Of course it is possible to add things like raisins, nuts olives, garlic and so on. But, I consider these accessories or add-ons rather than alterations to the basic formulation of the bread.
My equipment list is equally basic. I use a mixing bowl and spatula for stirring up dry ingredients and stirring in the water, This bowl is also used as the vessel for holding the dough during the initial rise (or proofing as the learned ones say). The bread is baked in an ordinary kitchen or camp oven and is contained either openly on a tray or in a container like a dutch oven.
The method is the final simplification. Most bread makers would have you "knead" the dough or mix it in a powered mixer or both prior to the initial rise. I do neither. Rather, after I have very thoroughly mixed the ingredients (flour, yeast, salt, and water) so that there are no obvious dry spots, I simple cover the dough and let it rise in a very cool spot for a good long time. Then I roll the dough out of its container onto a clean surface where it is stretched, folded, and rested two or three times. Finally the dough is shaped and allowed to rise one last time prior to baking. It takes more time and effort to do than it does to simply do it.
The pictures on this page show some of what we have baked. The rustic nature of the loaves is in keeping with our keep it simple approach. If you like what you see, may I suggest you give it a try by starting with the basic "No Need to Knead" Ciabatta Loaf.