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January 29, 2018
This is about...
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        OK---THERE’S NO DENYING IT---IT’S FREEZING IN WOODSTOCK. We’ve had a week’s worth of days below zero. AND, I WOKE UP ON THE FIRST DAY OF 2018 WITH NO HEAT HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ME! The locals up here say that this is the REAL Woodstock weather. Having lived up here for the last 10 years, I’ve apparently only experienced a lot of mild winters--- an aberration---global warming so to speak. Whatever. BABY, IT’S COLD OUTSIDE!
        Being a warm weather lover, you’re not going to find me out on the slopes. Nope, I’ll be in my nice warm kitchen cooking up some comforting stews and soups. So far, I’ve made a lot of those this winter. But THERE'S ONE THING THAT’S BEEN MISSING, A WARM CRUSTY LOAF OF BREAD. Nothing, and I mean nothing beats that yeasty aroma filling the kitchen. And the reward for your labor, which as you will see is MINIMAL, is A freshly-made, THICK CUT SLICE of homemade bread SLATHERED WITH LOTS OF sweet cream BUTTER, MELTING into all the nooks and crannies. I always add one final flourish --- a sprinkle of flaky sea salt --- THE BEST!
       There are a few versions of this recipe out there. But this is by far my favorite, from Laura Calder, a Canadian cookbook author who once had a lovely TV show called “French Food at Home”. Her name for this loaf?--- "THE MIRACLE BOULE." Boule means ball in French. So, unlike the classic long, thin baguette, this is a round, crusty loaf. She says IT’S THE CLOSEST THING, she's come TO FRENCH BREAD OUTSIDE OF FRANCE. And I agree! The real miracle here is in how it all comes together with so little effort. It's easy, delicious and requires NO KNEADING.
       THERE IS ONE IMPORTANT ITEM that will ensure a successful loaf, A HEAVY 4 QUART DUTCH OVEN WITH THE LID. It's the perfect container to create that boule shape. Le Creuset makes a nice one, but there are much less expensive versions out there that will work just as well.
        I recommend starting the night before, so that your homemade boule will be ready by lunch or dinner the next day. Now, I KNOW IT WILL BE UNBEARABLE TO WAIT until this bread cools, BUT PLEASE TRY and let it rest at least 20 minutes before you dig in!

LESSONS Learned:
1. Yes, the 1/4 teaspoon of yeast is all you need. It's not a misprint.
2. And, Yes, 1 1/2 cups of water is not a misprint either. It will be more like a batter than a dough.
3. Have patience. 14 hours is the minimum rise time and will yield a delicious bread. But if you can let it sit longer, it will be even better.
4. Tea/DishTowels? You can cover the bowl with plastic wrap for the first rise, if you want. But for the 2nd rise, a tea/dish towel is mandatory. Not only does the towel loosely cover the dough, but it's the easiest and safest way to transfer the dough into that very hot pot. I tried parchment once. It stuck to the paper, and became very difficult to get into the screamingly hot pot. Not a good idea.
5. Don’t be stingy with the flour either on the tea towel for that second rise. You'll need at least 1/2 cup. I tried to use less once. Again, that sticky problem occurred. Getting the dough into the hot pot was nearly impossible with the dough sticking to the towel. Again, not a pretty sight.
6. Make sure you preheat the Dutch oven for the full 30 minutes--that extra blast of heat is crucial to the bread's success.

Laura Calder's MIRACLE BOULE
(slightly adapted)

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon instant dry yeast
1 1/2 cups cold water
extra flour or cornmeal, as needed

Make the Boule:
               Mix the flour, salt and yeast in a bowl. Stir in 1 1/2 cups water to blend. What you'll have is a wet, shaggy, sticky, batter-like dough. Cover the bowl with a clean tea/dish towel and let it rest in a warm place for at least 14 hours, and up to 24 hours. It's ready for the next step when the surface is dotted with bubbles.
               Flour a work surface and dump the dough out onto it. Sprinkle over a little more flour and fold it once or twice. Cover with a tea towel and let rest 15 minutes.
               Place a clean tea towel on a half sheet pan, and coat the center of the towel where the bread will rest with at least 1 cup of flour. Using only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your fingers, scrape the dough out of the bowl and shape it into a ball, or boule as they say in French. Lay the dough on the towel, seam-side down. Dust with more flour. (Again, you'll need quite a lot because you want to be sure the dough doesn't stick to the towel ). Pull the sides of the towel up around the dough folding over the top and let rise for about 2 hours. The sheet pan will allow you to easily move the dough to a warm place. When ready, the dough will be more than double in size.
               Half an hour before the dough is ready, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Put a 4 quart cast-iron pot or Dutch oven inside to heat.
               When the dough is ready, remove the pot from the oven and literally dump the dough out of the towel into the pot. Aim for seam-side up, if possible. It may not fall that way, and it may look messy, but that's OK. Shake the pot to settle the bread evenly. Cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake until the loaf is nicely browned, another 15 to 30 minutes. Cool on a rack for at least 20 minutes. Get the butter ready!

Makes One 8 inch round loaf.      YUM!
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