*This is the Best Bread EVER.

December 27, 2008 at 8:42 pm (From the Cabin Kitchen) (, , )

This holiday season has so far been fantastic! Except for maybe today, now that the Pineapple Express has made it this far north again, warming things up so much that it is raining here, melting away all of our festive and lovely snow. Yes, people, stranger things have happened: I said lovely and snow in the! same! sentence! I think I am finally getting into this whole winter thing again, as memories of the beach, crashing waves, warm nights, and cool mojitos recede farther back into the recesses of my brain. It’s a slippery slope, though, and I must be careful because lingering too long in thoughts of paradise and palm trees just might send me back into Anti-Winter mode.

But nevertheless, our little Arctic Blast and Abundant Snowfall was fun while it lasted. We played and played in the snow and drank hot drinks and in general were just really merry. Christmas Eve was a snowy fun-filled day that involved one creative and crazy sled building project (the product of what happens when you leave two full grown engineers alone with a huge shipping crate, a pair of old skis, and a retired snowboard), eating lots of snacks and sweets, and then feasting on a smoked turkey and other sumptuous goods. To burn it all off, we decided to take said shipping crate, or creatively, “The Box”, down Brian’s 1/4 mile long driveway, and onto Wnuk Road all the way to Snowden Road, a journey of about 1 mile of harrowing fun. It was dark and blizzarding, making navigating the unweildly beast a little dicey. Filled with 4 kids and 2 grown women, and one captain, this unassuming crate on skis was about as much fun as you can have in a plain old wooden box!

Having recovered from the Box, I finally got to entertain last night. A houseful of 7 bipeds and 7 quadrapeds made for a cozy evening in the Cabin. I roasted up the pork loin I had intended to cook for Christmas Dinner, but was too tired to deal with it after a day of skiing on Mt. Hood. With various sides and plenty of libations to wash it all down, it was a feast.

Many of my guests’ favorite, though, was the garlic bread, and this is what I want to talk to you about today. I have been making the bread I used for Friday’s garlic bread (or Crack Bread, as Ryan calls it) for about a year now. The recipe came from my friend Talia, sent in the mail as part of a care package, and written on a 4×6 notecard. In the top corner, she wrote *This is the best bread ever. Because it is so easy, simple, and tasty, I couldn’t agree more.

The Best Bread Ever is a country-style bread that technically requires No Kneading, and takes less than 5 minutes to mix up, making it just about as fast and easy as using a bread machine, but producing a far superior product. The resulting loaf is tender, has a good crust, and is versatile enough to be used for sandwiches and even french toast in a pinch.

Because it is so easy to make, I encourage everyone to make up a loaf for your New Year’s Dinner, maybe in the form of Crack Bread. Or just sliced and warmed and spread with butter. Either way, you won’t be disappointed, and might even resolve to bake all of your household bread in the coming New Year, retire your bread machine, and get back to basics by using a good old wooden spoon and some elbow grease instead.

Country Bread, adapted from Talia’s Recipe

Yield 1 large free-form loaf

2 cups hot tap water (110 F)
2 T. active dry yeast
2 t. sugar or honey
1 T. table salt
4-1/2-5 cups unbleached all-purpose, or bread, flour

Method

1. Pour water into a large bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top, then add sugar or honey. Let stand until dissolved and starting to foam, about 5 minutes.
2. Add salt and about 4-1/2 cups flour, one cup at a time, stirring well with a wooden spoon after each addition. Dough will be sticky, but should pull away from sides of the bowl.
3. With floured hands, knead dough briefly (about 1 minute) in bowl. Cover bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.
4. Punch down, and let rise again for 1 hour.
5. Lightly oil a large baking sheet. Form dough into a loaf, about 4×14” and place on baking sheet. Cover loaf lightly with flour, then cover with towel and let rise on pan for 45 min.
6. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 and place a small pan of water on the upper rack, in a back corner. Bake bread for about 20-25 minutes, or until crust is lightly golden.
7. Remove loaf from pan and cool on a wire rack.

Crack Bread, adapted from “Parmesan Cheese Toasts”, The New Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas

Yield varies depending on size of slices

1/2 stick salted butter, room temperature
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
Salt and Pepper
Small handful of grated Parmesan (preferably grated on a Microplane grater)

Method

1. Preheat broiler with top rack at it’s highest position.
2. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, stirring well.
3. Spread slices of a baguette or Country Bread generously with the cheesy butter, taking care to cover all the way to the edges of the bread so they do not burn.
4. Place slices on a broiler pan, or baking sheet and broil until golden and bubbly—watching closely, because they burn fast!

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