Like many inventors, Charlie came across his technique by accident. At a party for Carl Sontheimer, founder of Cuisinart, the company that first introduced the food processor to American home cooks, it was suggested to Charlie that he mix his dough in a food processor. Thus began several years of experimentation and, finally, a foolproof method for making perfect bread every time.
Now you can re-create Charlie van Over's great bread for yourself. And what's even more amazing is that Charlie's is a hands-off, rather than a hands-on, method. Once the dough is mixed in the food processor, there's no kneading. Just place it in a bowl at room temperature to allow the flavors to develop. Have to run out suddenly for a few hours? No problem. Just put the dough in the refrigerator until you're ready. You won't have to keep baker's hours or become a professional to make wonderful bread at home.
Once you've mastered the basic technique, the possibilities are endless. Fougasse, Ciabatta, Semolina Bread, pizza,Danish Twists, and even sourdough Olive Rosemary Bread and Idaho Potato Rolls. Have a favorite bread? Charlie even explains how to convert any recipe to The Best Bread Ever method.
The Best Bread Ever provides easy-to-follow instructions for more than sixty breads, step-by-step photographs, helpful advice for troubleshooting your food processor, rich color photographs of Charlie's bread, and recipes for using bread in bread puddings, soups, and other dishes. As Jacques Pépin says in his foreword, "Get your ingredients and equipment together and follow Charlie's remarkable method. You will never be without good bread again."
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The Best Bread Ever
Three 14-inch loaves
Fermentation: 1 1/2 to 2 hours at room temperature, 70°F to 72°F
Proofing: 35 to 40 minutes at room temperature
Each step in this recipe is designed to make you feel at ease mixing dough in the food processor. If you've made bread by hand before, then you're accustomed to adding water to the flour as it mixes if the dough feels too firm or flour if the dough feels sticky. When mixing dough in the food processor, you will achieve the same results by holding back a few tablespoons of the water at the beginning of the mixing, adding it if the dough appears to be crumbly or if it is not coming together into a ball in the bowl. Depending on the brand and type of flour you are using, you may not need to add all of the water called for in the recipe. Set out all of your ingredients and have extra flour and a small amount of cool water handy should you need to make adjustments.
The first few times you mix this dough, stop the machine and feel the dough. If it feels very soft and clings to your fingers, add a few tablespoons more flour then resume mixing the dough for the time remaining. Once you have mixed this dough a few times, you'll probably end up throwing the entire amount of water in at the beginning.
Unlike many bread doughs you may be familiar with, this dough does not always double in bulk. In fact, it may seem downright sleepy as it quietly ferments. Once the dough is formed into loaves, it becomes more active. The loaves will puff and swell.
The beauty of this dough is its versatility. Use it to make baguettes or hearty peasant rolls. Make this dough with bread flour as Ido or with all-purpose flour for a lighter texture. Once you become adept with this recipe, experiment by adding different blends of flours.
The Lesson in Fermentation (page 56) explains how you can store unbaked loaves in the refrigerator to be baked when you have the time to do so.
This recipe makes three long baguettes or the dough can be divided and formed into any of the shapes described in the section on forming bread (pages 35-42).
If you are making baguettes in a home convection oven, try baking them in the convection mode without a pizza stone. You may get better results.
Unbleached bread flour: 500 grams or 1 pound or 3 1/3 to 4 cups
Fine sea salt: 10 grams or 2 teaspoons
Instant yeast: 1 teaspoon
Water: 315 grams or 10 ounces or 1 1/4 cups
Cornmeal for the baking sheet
1. Place the flour, salt, and yeast in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Using an instant-read thermometer, adjust the water temperature so that the combined temperatures of the water and the flour give a base temperature of 130°F if using a Cuisinart or KitchenAid or 150°F if using a Braun. (See page 33 for other models.) With the machine running, pour all but 2 tablespoons of the water through the feed tube. Process for 20 seconds, adding the remaining water if the dough seems crumbly and dry and does not come together into a ball during this time. Continue mixing the dough another 25 seconds, for a total of 45 seconds.
2. Stop the machine and take the temperature of the dough with an instant-read thermometer, which should read between 75°F and 80°F. If the temperature is lower than 75°F, process the dough for an additional 5 seconds. If the temperature of the dough is still lower than 75°F, then process the dough for 5 seconds, up to twice more, until it reaches the desired temperature. If the temperature is higher than 80°F, remove the thermometer, scrape the dough from the food processor into an ungreased bowl, and refrigerate for 5 to 10 minutes. Check the temperature of the dough after 5 minutes; the dough should be 80°F or cooler by that time.
3. Remove the dough from the processor and place it in a large ungreased bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to ferment for 1 1/2 to 2 hours at room temperature, about 70°F to 72°F. It will increase in volume somewhat, but don't be concerned by how much.
4. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. With a dough scraper or kitchen knife, divide the dough into 3 equal pieces and shape them into rough balls. Cover them with a sheet of plastic wrap and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes.
5. In preparation for the final proofing, spread a sheet of canvas or a heavy linen cloth on a counter or tabletop and sprinkle it lightly with flour. (If using a baguette pan, spray it with vegetable cooking spray.)
6. Sift a fine coating of flour on the work surface. Place one ball of dough on the surface and gently pat it down to an even thickness of 1 inch. Do not attempt to deflate every air bubble. Using the heels and palms of your hands, flatten the dough into a crude rectangle measuring about 4 x 5 inches and 1 inch thick. Fold the long side farthest from you a little over 2/3 of the way toward you. Using the heel of your hand, gently press the folded edge to seal the dough. Pick up the dough and turn it 180 degrees. Fold over the other long edge of the dough about 2/3 of the way, and seal with the palm of your hand.
7. To make a compact cylinder easy to roll into a baguette shape, use both hands to fold the log in half lengthwise. This time, as you fold, press your thumbs gently inside the fold to create tension on the surface of the log. Using your fingertips, press the edges together to seal the dough into a taut cylinder. This will produce a visible seam running the length of the dough.
8. To roll the dough into a baguette shape, place both hands on the center of the log with your fingers spread apart. Using light uniform pressure, gently roll the dough back and forth into a long snake. Taking care not to stretch the dough, move your hands from the center of the dough to the ends as the loaf begins to lengthen to about 14 inches. If the dough resists rolling, let it rest for 5 minutes before continuing. Repeat steps 6 through 8 with the remaining dough.
9. Using both hands, gently transfer each baguette, seam side up, to the lightly floured cloth. Fold the fabric up to form channels in which each loaf will rise. (Place the baguettes close together so that they rise and don't spread out.) Sprinkle the loaves with flour and cover them loosely with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Let the baguettes proof for 30 to 45 minutes, until the dough increases by half its size. It should feel soft but still spring back slightly when poked with your finger.
10. One hour before baking, put the oven rack on the second shelf from the bottom of the oven and place the baking stone on the rack. Place a small pan for water on the oven floor. Preheat the oven to 475°F.
11. Uncover the loaves. Place them seam side down on a peel or on the back of a baking sheet that has been lightly sprinkled with cornmeal. Or place the loaves in greased and lightly floured baguette pans. Sprinkle each loaf lightly with flour, and slash the tops several times diagonally with a razor blade.
12. Carefully pour about 1 cup of warm water into the pan on the oven floor. Slide the baguettes from the peel or the back of the baking sheet onto the baking stone in the oven. Or, place the baguette pan directly on the baking stone. Reduce the heat to 450°F.
13. Bake the loaves for 2 minutes. Open the oven and quickly pour another cup of water into the pan on the oven floor. Continue baking for 20 to 22 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Tap the bottom of the loaves; a hollow sound means they're done. Or, insert an instant-read thermometer into the bread, and if the internal temperature is 205°F to 210°F, the bread is done.
14. Remove the bread from the oven and immediately place the loaves on a wire rack to cool completely before storing.
Store the bread in a paper bag or loosely covered with a towel at room temperature. The bread will remain fresh for up to two days at room temperature when covered with a towel.
Basic Pizza Dough
Enough dough for three 10-inch pizzas or foccacia, or 5 individual pizzas
Fermentation: 2 1/2 to 3 hours at room temperature, 70°F to 72°F
Retardation: 4 to 36 hours in the refrigerator, 37°F to 45°F
This dough makes a pizza crust with the taste of bread and the character of pizza--equal parts crunchy and chewy. I use it to make focaccia and breadsticks as well as schiacciata. It is best when it has a long, slow rise.
There is a widely held belief that the best pizza dough is made with high-gluten flour. I disagree, as do the great Italian pizza makers of Naples, the birthplace of pizza. They use a flour that has less gluten than our all-purpose flour. For the food processor, use all-purpose for similar results. This recipe hits a home run, so don't adulterate it with the most virgin of olive oils.
After the dough ferments, it will be softer and stickier than when it was first mixed. Sprinkle a generous amount of flour on your hands and work surface when rolling it out and shaping it.
Unbleached all-purpose flour: 500 grams or 1 pound or 3 1/3 to 4 cups
Fine sea salt: 10 grams or 2 teaspoons
Instant yeast: 1/2 teaspoon
Water: 300 grams or 9 1/2 ounces or 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons
Cornmeal for the peel or baking sheet
1. Place the flour, salt, and yeast in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Using an instant-read thermometer, adjust the water temperature so that the combined temperatures of the flour and water give a base temperature of 130°F if using a Cuisinart or KitchenAid or 150°F if using a Braun. (See page 33 for other models.) With the machine running, pour all but 2 tablespoons of the water through the feed tube. Process for 30 seconds. Stop the machine and if the dough seems too dry, add the remaining water during the last 15 seconds of processing for a total of 45 seconds.
2. Stop the machine and take the temperature of the dough with an instant-read thermometer, which should read between 75°F and 80°F. If the temperature is lower than 75°F, process the dough for an additional 5 seconds, up to twice more, until it reaches the desired temperature. If the temperature is higher than 80°F, remove the thermometer, scrape the dough from the food processor into an ungreased bowl, and refrigerate for 5 to 10 minutes. Check the temperature after 5 minutes; it should be 80°F or cooler by that time.
3. Remove the dough from the processor, place it in a large ungreased bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to ferment for 21/2 to 3 hours at room temperature, 70°F to 72°F. It will not double at this point, but it will increase in volume somewhat.
4. Place the bowl of dough in the refrigerator and retard for at least 4 hours or up to 36 hours. Proceed with any of the recipes for pizza, focaccia, or schiacciata.
5. Leftover pizza dough may be formed and baked like The Best Bread Ever (page 50).
One 10-inch pizza
Margherita is a fancy name for a simple pizza topped with a small amount of tomato sauce, slices of fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves. Pizza Margherita is a universal favorite among children.
1. One hour before baking, put the oven rack on the second shelf from the bottom of the oven and place the baking stone on the rack. Preheat the oven to 500°F.
2. While the oven is heating up, remove the dough from the refrigerator and turn it onto a lightly floured work surface. With the palms of your hands, flatten it to a thickness of about 1/2 inch. Generously sprinkle a
baking sheet with flour, place the dough on the sheet, and cover it loosely with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to come to room temperature. This will take about 30 minutes, but do not let it sit longer than 1 hour before forming and baking.
3. If your kitchen is very cold, place the baking sheet of dough on top of the stove. The warmth of the oven will help it to warm up so that the dough is soft enough to stretch easily. Don't leave the dough there more than 10 minutes; it could overproof. Turn the dough over once or twice during this time so that the heat permeates it.
4. Place the dough on a generously floured work surface. Using your fingertips, press it all over so that it begins to stretch out. Gently pull to stretch it into a round disk. The dough will be noticeably soft when pulled. Lift it by the edges, place your fists underneath it, and move your fists outward to stretch the dough into a circle about 10 to 11 inches in diameter, or the size that fits your peel or the baking sheet you are using to slide it into the oven. If it resists shaping, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for another 10 minutes.
5. Sprinkle a peel or the back of a baking sheet with cornmeal, then carefully transfer the stretched pizza dough onto it. Spread the dough thinly with the tomato sauce, leaving a 1/2-inch edge all around. Scatter the mozzarella over the tomato sauce. Sprinkle the pizza with the basil leaves and the Parmesan and season it with salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle it all over with the olive oil.
6. Open the oven door and carefully slide the pizza directly onto the baking stone. (Hold the baking sheet or peel with two hands and reach deep into the oven, directly over the stone where you want the pizza to land. Use a firm back and forth movement to shake and slide the pizza from the peel or baking sheet onto the stone. As the pizza slides forward, gently pull the peel or baking sheet out from under it.)
7. Bake for 5 minutes. Check it and rotate so that it bakes evenly. Continue baking for another 5 to 7 minutes, until the edges of the crust are just beginning to get dark brown. To remove from the oven, slide the peel under the pizza and use it to lift the pie out. Or slide the baked pizza onto the back of a baking sheet. Transfer the pizza to a wire rack to rest for 2 minutes, so that some of the steam escapes and the crust doesn't get soggy.
8. Place the pizza on a cutting board and slice into 8 pieces.