While away the most undemanding holiday of the year by baking bread.
By Annemarie Ahearn
Many of us wake up late on New Year’s Day, groggy and with few plans for the day. My tradition is to bake a loaf of bread — nothing too challenging, just a simple loaf that makes the house smell like a bakery. What better way to contemplate one’s resolutions than while meditatively mixing, kneading, and watching as the dough rises. If you’re a bread-baking novice, I challenge you to begin your year with a new skill, a new tradition, and one resolution already under the belt.
Rustic Apple Cider Boule
Makes 1 loaf of bread
2 cups apple cider
2 teaspoons baker’s yeast
5–6 cups flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Dutch oven
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Pour apple cider into a small saucepan and heat until it’s warm to your finger but not hot. (If it’s too hot, it will kill the yeast.) Move cider to a glass or wooden mixing bowl. Sprinkle yeast across the surface of the cider and swirl to dissolve. Let sit for 5 minutes, until a raft of yeast forms in the middle. (Look for bubbles. That means the yeast is active.) Gradually add 2 cups of flour, stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture is mud-like. Let this rise for 1 hour in a warm spot (like near a woodstove), covered with a damp cloth. The dough should slightly increase in volume and form lots of bubbles. Sprinkle the salt around the edge of the bowl. Stir to incorporate. Then add 1 more cup of flour and fold into the dough 100 times, which helps to develop the gluten. Continue to add flour (about 1 cup), fully incorporating, until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl.
Turn out onto a well-floured surface and sprinkle a final cup of flour around the outside of the dough. Knead gradually. If the dough sticks to your palms, bring in small amounts of flour on your hands as you knead. You may not need all of the flour. Knead until dough is consistent in texture, about five minutes, then form a boule. Sprinkle a clean bowl with a bit more flour to prevent sticking and sit dough to rest with a damp towel over top. Let rise for an additional hour. When doubled in size, shape dough into a boule. Use a little flour on your hands if it’s sticky. Let rise one more time in the bowl for 15–20 minutes.
Place Dutch oven in the oven with the lid on for 15 minutes. Do the next steps as quickly as you can without burning yourself, as it will promote a good rise: Remove Dutch oven from oven, take lid off, and generously flour the inside to prevent sticking. Set the dough into the Dutch oven and cut slits in the top of the dough (in the shape of a tic-tac-toe board) to let rise evenly. Put lid back on and place in oven for 20 minutes. (This is called the “oven spring” and is the only chance for the dough to rise in the oven.) Remove lid and finish baking until the boule is a deep golden brown, 10–15 minutes. Remove from oven. Place on a cutting board to cool. Let rest for 10 minutes before cutting. Consume warm with salted butter.