Two years ago, I bought a little toaster oven, and I think it paid for itself the first year in energy savings just to bake up a pizza, a potato, or small casserole. And I discovered that it does a fine job baking fresh bread. I get the freezer stocked with sandwich loaves before the Texas heat settles in, but having a freshly baked small bread is a treat on a 100-degree day, and we have a lot of those here in Texas.
The day before, I stir up some simple dough, enough to bake up my choice of a pizza, burger buns, or 2 ficelles (mini baguettes), a small fougasse, or ciabatta or focaccia — all without heating up the kitchen. Weighing flour is much easier and more accurate than measuring. If you don’t yet have a kitchen scale with a tare feature, find one you really like, and put it on your wish list. If you want to measure, you must use dry-measure cups rather than liquid measuring cups for your flour. Fluff the flour, scoop and level.
• 2 cups plus 4 tbsp (10 ounces) bread flour
• ½ tsp fine sea salt
• ½ tsp instant yeast
• 6 ¾ ounces tepid water
• As needed: a small amount of olive oil or other non-GMO oil
Mix. Put the flour in a large (4-quart or so) bowl. Add the salt on one side, the yeast on the other, give it a quick stir. Add the water and, with a spatula or spoon, stir until the flour is incorporated and the dough comes together. You’ll have 1 pound of dough.
Stretch and fold. Set out a large cutting board, and put about 1 Tbsp of oil on it. Using your hands, smear the oil on the board. Then, with your oiled hands, scoop out the dough onto the board. Pat the dough out to an oval, then grab the back edge of the dough and pull it away and fold it back to the center. Now, do the same with the front: Grab the edge, pull it toward you and fold it back to the center. Turn the dough over and repeat the stretch and fold.
Walk away for 10 minutes, then go back and repeat, then do it again, three times in all. You don’t have to cover the dough while it rests because it’s oiled. Now put the dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic, and put in the refrigerator until the next day.
Bake. The next day, I usually start at about 2 in the afternoon to have bread for dinner. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Line your toaster oven pan with parchment or non-stick foil. Gently pat out the dough and then form whatever small breads you want for dinner. Take care not to deflate the dough, but pinch any large bubbles on the surface. Place your little breads on the pan.You may have dough left — just stick it back into the refrigerator to make something special tomorrow. (A pizza?)
Cover your little breads with plastic and let them rise until doubled and quite puffy. Even though the dough is cold, in a summer kitchen it won’t take long.
Pat some of the dough to about 6 inches by 9 inches and ½-inch thick. Cut into 4 to 6 pieces and, if you want, pull the corners under to make rounds. Nobody ever said burgers had to be round.
Dust the bottoms of the buns with a little flour and place on the pan.
Pat out a 3-inch ball of dough to an oval 4 by 8. Grab the back edge and stretch just a little, bring it to the center and press the edge to the center with your fingertips. Repeat with the front edge, taking care not to deflate the dough except where you press it.
Now, fold the dough in half, again pressing the seam with just your fingertips.
Turn the seam to the bottom and roll it gently, urging the loaf to about the length of your toaster oven pan.
The dough you’ll make into fougasses can have some additions folded in before you form the loaf. Rosemary and bits of oil-cured black olives are traditional and delicious.
For a typical Ladder Bread, use about ¼ of the dough and pat it out to about 5-by-6 inches. Put the dough on the lined sheet and cut horizontal slits about 2 inches apart. Then, grab the short ends and pull the dough so the slits separate to form a “ladder."
Brush the ladder with a bit of olive oil and, if you like, sprinkle lightly with best quality sea salt flakes.
Use about half the dough. Put it on the lined pan and pat it out to nearly cover the pan. Brush the dough lightly with a bit of olive oil and then use your finger tips to dimple the dough all over. Gently now, don’t deflate the whole thing.
To top a focaccia, I like to par bake for about 10 minutes and then add any number of toppings, my favorites being artichoke hearts, sliced tomato and a sprinkle of parmesan.
Preheat the toaster oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. (Mine has a convection feature, so I use that.) A quick spritz of water gives a crunchy crust, a brush of oil makes the crust chewy.
Bake your little breads until nicely golden, which can take only 10 to 15 minutes for a ficelle or ladder bread, and up to 20 minutes for fat burger buns or focaccia. Slide your breads out onto a cooling rack and don’t cut until completely cool, but you can tear a ficelle or ladder if you just have to have some right now.
Wendy Akin is happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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