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Everybody’s Favorite Peasant Bread

Who doesn’t love a good loaf of fresh-baked homemade bread?

This recipe comes from The Hay Day Country Market Cookbook, which we picked up at a Cracker Barrel years ago. It’s very much a “farm stand” cookbook, with recipes heavily focused on produce. The recipes also seem to lean just slightly more complicated than I like to tackle everyday, but don’t let that scare you away. There’s a recipe for cranberry-orange muffins I make every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas, they are that good! Also several extremely tasty soup recipes.

And to go along with a lovely soup, one of the recipes that I thought was intriguing – but I never made it until recently! – was Everybody’s Favorite Peasant Bread. I first made it one day last fall when we had a guest; I know, a cardinal rule of hosting broken: never serve something you’ve never made before to company. But our kind of company is so very rarely the kind where you have to scour the house and prepare a picture-perfect meal. In this case, I had the time to do it and I’m a fairly confident bread-maker. Since then, I’ve made this bread about four or five times.

It was delicious! It’s an English-muffin style loaf, chewy from the baking soda with a light, spongy crumb. Like all yeast breads, it takes time to prepare, with all the kneedings and risings and punchings-down. The actual hands-on time isn’t all that bad, though.

The recipe makes two loaves, one to serve hot and fresh that day, and one to freeze for another meal! Wrapped carefully, it freezes well.

 

Everybody’s Favorite Peasant Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups hot water (105-115 degrees)
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 package (2 1/4 tsp) yeast
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 cup cool water
  • 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Directions

  1. Combine hot water, sugar, and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Dissolve yeast and sugar and let it stand until the mixture is nice and bubbly, about 5 minutes. In a separate bowl, combine cool water and baking soda. Add to yeast mixture.
  2. Over a period of some amount of time (the recipe said 10-15 minutes, but I didn’t take anywhere near this long. Too impatient!) gradually add 5 cups flour and salt using a large wooden spoon or the paddle attachment on a mixer set on low speed. The mixture will form an elastic dough that just begins to ball up and pull away from the sides of the bowl in ribbons. Work in enough of the remaining flour to form a firm but sticky dough that comes together in a ball. It should not be as firm as traditional bread dough and will be too sticky to knead like you normally would with yeast bread. Cover the bowl loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let it rest until the dough has doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. I approved of being able to leave it to rise in the mixer bowl – one less dish to wash!
  3. Grease two loaf pans.
  4. Using buttered hands, or hands spritzed with Pam, turn the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and divide it in half. Shape the halves  and tuck them inside the prepared pans. Let them rise uncovered for about two hours, or until they have doubled in size and risen about 1 inch above the sides of the pans. Longer is fine. The bread works for you, not the other way around.
  5. Preheat oven to 400, and while you’re at it, toss the butter in the microwave to melt.
  6. Brush the tops of the loaves with the melted butter, and bake 30 minutes or until crisp and nicely browned on top. To test doneness, tap the bottom of a loaf. If it sounds hollow, the bread is done. Turn them out of the pans to cool on a wire rack. The lightly crisp crust will soften as the loaves cool.

Source: The Hay Day Country Market Cookbook (By Kim Rizk, Workman Publishing Company, 1998)

Mmm, fresh-baked bread. It slices way easier if you wait a few minutes to cut. But if you have guests waiting to eat and your toddlers are howling for food, just go for it. The bread keeps great for a few days in a plastic container on the counter. After the first day, the bread is a little drier, but it’s fine for toast.

Breakfast menu: watermelon, toasted bread, and egg with basil.

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