"I am the bread of life..."

I love making this bread recipe from the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It's very easy and after a couple of times the long directions don't seem nearly as daunting. Here is the recipe with my tweaks in italics. I know this recipe is long and seems so confusing but just doing it a couple times makes it very simple. I actually don't own this book yet, and am hoping to get it for a birthday gift from my husband. I have heard there are some great variations of this recipe, including a whole wheat loaf which I would love to make. I love that I know the bread my family is eating when I make this is free of preservatives and it tastes so fresh. I also think this a very special thing to make during Lent to symbolize the Last Supper and Jesus' sacrifice for us of His body which He offers to us as the bread of life.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, "Take and eat; this is my body."
- Matthew 26:26

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst."
- John 6:35

Artisan Bread

Preparation time: 15 minutes to prepare enough dough for four loaves, to be baked over four days. Each daily loaf will average 5 minutes of active preparation time. Makes four 1-pound loaves.

3 cups lukewarm water (about 100º F)
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
6 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour (no need to sift)
Cornmeal for the pizza peel (I don't use this)

1. In a 5-quart bowl, mix the yeast, water and salt. Add all the flour, then use a wooden spoon to mix until all ingredients are uniformly moist. It is not necessary to knead or continue mixing once the ingredients are uniformly moist. This will produce a loose and very wet dough.

2.Cover with a lid (not airtight). Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse, about 2 hours, but no more than 5 hours.

3. After rising, the dough can be baked immediately, or covered (non completely airtight) and refrigerated up to 14 days. The dough will be easier to work with after at least 3 hours refrigeration.

4. On baking day, prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal (I don't have a pizza peel so I prep my loaf on a plastic cutting board and then let it rest as below on a small square of parchment paper which is covered with flour and that parchment paper and dough sits on a small plastic cutting board. I also don't use cornmeal because my loaf sticks to the parchment paper which when I stick it into the oven slides right off the small cutting board as one unit onto a cookie sheet already in the oven.) to prevent the bread from sticking when you transfer it to the oven. Uncover the dough and sprinkle the surface with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough (serrated knives are best). Store the remaining dough in the bowl and refrigerate for baking at another time.

Note my small green cutting board (Target $1 section purchase which I use all the time) under the parchment paper with the dough on it. I use the cutting board as a sliding vehicle that the parchment paper slides off of onto the cookie sheet in the oven.

5. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won't stick. Create a smooth ball of dough by gently pulling the sides down around to the bottom, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. While shaping, most of the dusting flour will fall off. The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out during resting and baking. Shaping the loaf this way should take no more than 1 minute.

6.Place the dough on the pizza peel. Allow the loaf to rest for about 40 minutes. It does not need to be covered. The bread may not rise much during this time.

7. Twenty minutes before baking, place a pizza stone on the center rack of the oven. If you don't have a baking stone, use another baking sheet (this is what I do, just an old cookie sheet). Remove any upper racks. Place a broiler pan on a rack below the pizza stone or on the floor of the oven. Preheat oven to 450 F.

8. When the dough has rested for 40 minutes, dust the top liberally with flour, then use a serrated knife to slash a 1/4-inch-deep cross or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top (during Lent or always you could make this the shape of a cross instead of an "x" to signify Jesus' sacrifice for us on the cross)

9. Slide the loaf off the peel and onto the baking stone. Quickly but carefully pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the oven door.

10. Bake for about 30 minutes (I usually only cook 25-27 minutes), or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch. Allow the bread to cool completely, preferably on a wire cooling rack.

This post was written by Robina, at Motherly Loving, and submited for publication here at Catholic Cuisine. Thank you Robina!

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