Friday, April 25, 2008

All Fired Up

Ever since we chanced upon a Breton festival at the hamlet of Keroscoet in France many years ago, and watched the baking of bread in an ancient wood-fired oven, I’ve had a yen for my own.

Since that’s a tad impractical when you live less than 6 degrees north of the equator, I’ve devised my own form of oven which produces a loaf of bread that has the incomparable texture and flavour of bread baked in a wood-fired oven. And my “oven” is created using everyday terracotta items you can buy locally: a wide dish sold to put under pot-plants to catch the water, and a huge Indian-made curry pot that I bought in Singapore more than 25 years ago.

Here’s how it works. You make your dough (see later), turn your electric oven to 230 degrees Celcius and put in the empty dish and pot. After 12-15 minutes, when the terracotta is thoroughly heated through, you remove them from the oven, slap the bread dough on the dish, invert the curry pot (which, by an incredible stroke of luck, is exactly the same diametre as the dish) over the bread and put the whole “mini-oven” into the electric oven. Leave for 30 minutes, then remove the curry pot cover. Put a sheet of aluminium foil loosely over the top of the bread to stop the top burning and return to the electric oven. Lower the heat to 180 degrees and cook a further 25 minutes. Cool on a rack.

I also use the pot-plant dish as a pizza “stone” and bake Arab bread on it. Here’s our favourite bread recipe using Wendy’s Non-patented Wood-fired Oven Equivalent.

Although this is not that healthy, since it’s made with white flour, it doesn’t have nasty bread improvers, stabilisers and other chemicals. It also happens to be the easiest bread I’ve ever made as it doesn’t require needing. All you need is time.

3 cups white flour, sifted
1/2-3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 (yes, only one-quarter) teaspoon dried yeast
1 1/3-1 1/2 cups water

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, then stir in the water to make a rather wet dough. It’ll be a bit claggy, not a nice smooth ball, but don’t worry. Simple cover the bowl with a plastic bag and leave to rise in a warm place for about 12 hours. Sprinkle a tea towel liberally all over one side with flour, then tip out the bread onto the tea towel and shape roughly with your floured hands into a ball. Flip over part of the tea towel to cover the bread and leave to rise (about 1-2 hours). Bake as directed above.

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