I recently received Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking for my birthday and couldn’t wait to put it to the test. As part of my life-long goal to ween myself off grocery stores as much as possible – both for health and financial reasons – I’ve been wanting to make my own bread for some time now. I took a baby step in the right direction with my Homemade Whole-Wheat Crackers, a recipe that boosted my confidence even though it is so incredibly simple I was almost embarrassed to post it. Well this basic bread recipe is just as simple! It will require some muscle and about thirty minutes of your favorite show tunes (ok, the latter is optional but highly suggested), yet it is definitely the perfect way to start your own bread-baking revolution!
Basic Ratio Bread (from Ratio by Michael Ruhlman)
20 oz. all-purpose flour
12 oz. water*
2 T salt
1 T instant yeast
1 T EVOO
sea salt to taste
*Note: Don’t use tap water for this, the chlorine inhibits the yeast. Use bottled or filtered water, if available, or let tap water sit for at least 12 hours to evaporate the chlorine.
- If you don’t have a scale, the basic bread ratio is: 5 parts flour to 3 parts water plus yeast and salt; so you can use the general equivalent of 4 C flour, 1 ½ C of water. A scale is much easier, though, not to mention cleaner – who doesn’t love less dishes to wash? If using a scale first tare a medium bowl. Add 20 oz. of flour. Tare again. Add 12 oz. of water. Add the salt. Add the yeast to the water and let it dissolve for a few minutes.
- If you’re one of those lucky individuals with a stand mixer, you can mix here with a paddle attachment on medium speed until the dough has come together. If you are a poor student like myself, use a wooden spoon.
- Once the dough has come together, replace the paddle in the stand mixer with a dough hook and mix for 10 more minutes. If you used a wooden spoon in the previous step or if you simply want the challenge and satisfaction of kneading your own dough, turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and begin working.
- To test your dough for either method, pull off a chunk and gently stretch it into a square. If it holds together proceed to step 5. If not, keep kneading/mixing.
- Once the dough passes the windowpane test, place it in a bowl (use the one for the stand mixer if applicable) and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise until it’s roughly doubled in size – about 40 minutes. Test the dough with your finger by poking it deeply. If the dough springs back it isn’t ready. It should resist somewhat, but the hole should remain.
- After the dough has passed the poke test, preheat the oven to 450°F.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead once more (or for the first time) to expel excess gas and redistribute the yeast.
- Place the dough in an 8 ½” bread pan and cover with a dish cloth. Let it sit for about an hour. You may also cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for up to 24 hours. Just allow the dough to return to room temperature before baking.
- Brush the top with EVOO and sprinkle with sea salt to taste. Bake for 10 minutes at 450°F then reduce the temperature to 350°F for another 45 – 50 minutes more or until the top is golden brown and hardened.
- Let the bread (yes, you just baked bread!) cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing.
I was worried as soon as I began kneading. I knew it would take longer than the machine-mixed time of 10 minutes, but I wasn’t sure exactly how long. I also felt as though I were racing the yeast: can you knead so slow that the little beasties finish producing gas before the dough is elastic enough to trap it?? I know that by kneading you are creating gluten and it is the glutenous property of the dough that gives it its elasticity, trapping the gas created by the yeast, and forming the pleasant spongy inside of baked bread.
Well, I cheated slightly because after thirty minutes the dough still wasn’t like the beautifully stretchy specimen shown in the book, but my wrists were tired. I figured half an hour of kneading was an admirable first attempt if it failed and continued on anyway. Well the bread turned out great! …a trifle plain, but that’s what I expected from the bare-bones ratio of bread and water. I wasn’t looking for anything award-winning, but more of a foundation on which I can experiment in the future. Thank you Michael Ruhlman! You are my current culinary hero!
Overall Enjoyment: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥