For the past 10 years or so, our family has always baked bread on snow days (when school is cancelled) in the winter. With the kids home from school and driving around not a good idea, it’s a fun and tasty snow day activity; plus you’re stuck at home and can deal with the mixing, kneading, rising, proofing and baking, which can stretch out over the course of several hours, depending on the bread recipe. There are few things better than hot bread, with butter and honey, when you’re stuck inside on a snowy day. Homemade soup might be better, but you can cook that too, and eat it along with the bread!
Last year we didn’t have any snow days, and most years only have 3 or 4. Recently, I decided that we need to do better than that and cook bread more often, even in the summer. There’s no good reason we can’t have good bread at least once a week. (Although we do have an awesome bakery in our town, Wheatfield’s, so it’s not like we can’t get excellent bread.)
So I started reading up, and seeing what was available to help us achieve homemade bread more often. I got Peter Reinhart’s books, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and American Pie (about pizza), read about and made the no-knead bread in this article (tasty!) and read a lot on The Fresh Loaf and other food blogs. One of the things that these advocate in common is a strategy that stretches the making of the bread over many hours (generally overnight) so that the mixing can happen rather quickly and the first rise/maturation/fermentation can happen over the course of hours (or days), then the proofing and baking happen on another day. Reinhart’s book goes into great detail to explain why this makes better tasting bread, his research is fun to read, and the bread is very good.
Perhaps the easiest one for me is the strategy outlined in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Hertzberg and Francois. In essence, you quickly mix all the ingredients together in a mixing bowl, with a spoon (so no KitchenAid to clean up), let it rise for a couple of hours, then dump it in a container for refrigerator storage. You can leave it there for up to 2 weeks they say (mine has never lasted that long). When you want to use it, cut off a chunk, shape it into a loaf, let it proof for an hour or so (they say 40 minutes. I’ve done it for as long as an hour-and-a-half) and bake. So it’s totally feasible to imagine baking fresh bread on a weeknight after working all day. There’s a lot to like about the simplicity of the system, and the bread is excellent. Best bread I’ve ever made at home.
Another twist to my approach is the baking of the bread in a gas grill. It’s summer here and I can’t bear to heat up the house with the oven. So I’ve spent a good bit of time learning and experimenting to bake outdoors in the gas grill. It makes a beautiful crust and there’s not really any trick to it once you get the grill set up. I might even continue to cook outdoors in the winter—although it’s nice to have the smell in the house in the winter. When it cools off, I’ll cook some in the oven and see how it compares.
The trick to cooking in the grill is to moderate the direct heat coming off the burners in the bottom. I cooked my first loaf on a pizza stone; the bottom burnt, but the bread itself was very good. So I got another pizza stone (actually it’s a 1 inch thick kiln shelf I got from a local potter’s supply place) and put it below the first. The top stone has little feet on it so there is a small air gap between the stones. I checked the temperature of the top stone with an infrared thermometer and it’s around 400° F. (The bottom stone is probably 900°). The thermometer in the lid reads about 500°. It takes a good half hour to 45 minutes of preheating to get the stone up to temperature. (Reinhart recommends preheating the kitchen oven for an hour if you’re cooking on a stone, so it’s not that much different.) I think you could put any number of things under the top stone to moderate the heat: bricks, ceramic tiles, quarry tiles.
I have used this dough for pizza and flat bread, although Peter Reinhart’s recipe for Neo-neapolitan pizza dough is better. But still, in a pinch you can make it work, and it’s probably way better than most pizza you’ll buy in your town. For flat bread, stretch it out and cook it directly on the grill grate, with no stones at all. It takes about 3 minutes a side, if that much. Keep a close eye on it.
For me, the big, round simple loaf works best, covered in sesame seeds.
Here you go:
Artisan Bread on the Gas Grill
4 cups King Arthur All-purpose flour
4 cups King Arthur Bread flour
1.75 cups King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour
2 Tb Kosher Salt
1 Tb Instant yeast
4.75 cups Water, room temperature.
1 egg (for topping)
sesame seeds (for topping
- Mix dry ingredients in large mixing bowl.
- Add water and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon or spatula.
- Cover with a towel and let sit at room temperature for 2 hours.
- Place in an oiled container and cover (but not tightly; you need the container to breathe a bit.) Refrigerate.
- Cool overnight, and for as long as 2 weeks (I don’t know what happens after that…..)
- To bake, cut off a grapefruit-sized hunk of dough, and shape into a loaf on a floured surface.
- Place the loaf on parchment paper on a peel or rimless cookie sheet (or the bottom of a regular baking sheet)
- Let proof in a warm location for about an hour.
- About 40 minutes before you plan to cook, preheat your grill (see note below.)
- Right before cooking brush on a beaten egg and coat with sesame seeds.
- Slash a cross in the top with a razor blade or sharp knife.
- Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until internal temperature registers ±200°F.
- All the bread books say to let it cool before eating. Good luck with that. Our family waits a bit, but always eats it when it’s still warm enough to melt the butter.
Note on the grill setup: Obviously there will be a variation between different makes and models of grills. I have a Weber gas grill with 3 burners. I leave them on high the whole time. For some reason, one side of my grill is warmer than the other, so I check in on it every 10 minutes or so, and rotate the bread so each side gets some of the warm spot. You’ll have to experiment to see what works for your setup.