This recipe is from The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking by Brother Rick Curry, S.J., a cookbook I plucked from the Barnes and Noble bargain racks many moons ago while I was in pursuit of a good recipe for challah. And for years, I've been making the challah recipe, and had tried a few other recipes out of this book, with some success.
Meanwhile, outside of the challah realm...
I have also for a long time been looking for a crusty, artisan-style bread that I could make at home that would taste like it was from a bakery. I tried dozens of recipes, but they all fell short--either their crusts were too hard or too soggy, or the rise didn't support the shape of the bread, or I simply didn't like the chew. I made this Brothers' Bread because the description in the book also called it "Peasant Bread," and I had an inkling that that was exactly the type of bread I was looking for--rustic, chewy, crusty and flavorful. It took only one bite of this bread, and I knew it was a winner. As a bonus, its preparation is more simple and less labor-intensive than many similar loaves, requiring only one rise and a very minimal amount of hand-kneading. And it makes two loaves, perfect for sharing.
But Abe will tell you that this is his favorite bread ever, and that's the real reason this recipe makes it onto this blog.
This recipe is paraphrased from the original book, and my personal notations are in parentheses.
1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
2 1/4 c. warm water (110-115 degrees)
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp. salt (I prefer kosher salt--it enhances the flavor without being overly salty)
6-7 c. all-purpose flour
Combine yeast and water in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, stirring to dissolve yeast. Then add sugar and salt. Mix well; set aside for 5 minutes, allowing the yeast mixture to become foamy, or "proofed."
Beat in mixer for 10 minutes, gradually adding flour until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, about 6 or 7 cups total (but don't worry so much about precise measurement--just watch for the pulling-away-from-the-bowl phenomenon--the actual amount of flour required varies according to environmental factors like humidity, etc.)
Knead by hand until smooth and elastic, about 10-12 times, adding flour as necessary to combat stickiness.
Place in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat with oil, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place 1 1/2 hours. (You can maximize the rise time by first boiling a couple of cups of water in the microwave. Push the steaming water to the back of the microwave, then put your dough in, close the door, and wait. The heat from the hot water creates an ideal rising environment)
Turn the dough out onto the counter and punch down. Divide in half, shape two round loaves by tucking the edges under repeatedly until you have a taut round shape. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or sprinkled with cornmeal.
Carve an x in each loaf with a clean razor blade, going all the way from side to side. Spray loaves with vinegar (promotes a brown, crisp crust--definitely don't skip this part, even if it sounds weird. You will not taste vinegar in the finished loaf.)
Place the loaves in a cold oven, and bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes.
Generally speaking, I've read that it's best to wait 45 min.-1 hr. after baking before cutting into a loaf of freshly baked bread. Cutting into it too early adversely affects the texture. But no fear, after 45 min., it will still be warm enough to slather with butter and jam.
Do plan to try this one. You won't believe how good it is, and how easy!