Steaming Away Toe Cramps With White Bread

Wednesday’s are a swim day.  I pick up the Stat Man from class and we go lap it up.  With 13 years of competitive swimming in my pocket, and both high school and club coaching experience, the Stat Man leaves the workout design in my hands.  I think he trusts me.  Sigh.  However, his trust may be misguided.  My sets seem to induce toe cramps during his swims.  I admit it.  I am a foul, foul, girlfriend and he loves me anyway.  Awe shucks.

So here is something to make up for the toe cramps.  White bread.  Why white bread?  Well, because it’s basic, simple, and straightforward, the way comfort should be.  And comfort, being close enough to comfortable, absolves me of podiatric guilt.  (I’ve taken the LSAT.  That there is air-tight logic folks.).

Basic White Bread Loaf

From James Peterson’s “Baking”

4 Cups Flour

1 ½ tsp yeast

1 ½ Cups Water

1 tsp salt

Grab a big ‘ol bowl and toss 4 cups of flour in the bowl.  With your hands make a well in the middle of the flour large enough to hold the cup and a half of water.  Now dump the water in the well.  Next sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Start to mix the flour, water, and yeast, then add the salt.  Sometimes I use a wooden spoon to mix, other times I just dive in with my fingers and get dough stuck in my arm hair.  It’s gross two hours later.  Finish combining the ingredients until all of the flour is incorporated.  Set the dough in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Get out your muscles and knead the dough until it is smooth.  The dough is ready when you can pinch it and make a ½ cm tall Mohawk down it’s back.  It takes my dinky biceps about 15 minutes to slap it into shape.  I bet the Hulk is faster.  Find that warm place again, and let the dough rise for 2-4 hours.  Go drink a beer or watch a soap opera.

Reunite with your full grown dough, and punch it down.  I wish this was literal, however its best to use your fingers and gently deflate the mass to about one half of its bloated self.  Then shape it into a loaf, and put it in a pan.  Yet again, hide it in a warm place for 1-2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Once you have a good 400, place a baking sheet on the floor of the oven or bottom rack.  Pour water in the baking sheet until it reaches 1/3 up the side of the sheet.  Place the bread pan on a rack above the baking sheet and spray the walls of the oven with water.  Shut the oven.  Wait 30 seconds.  Open her up again and give the oven a few more spritzes.

A few words about this whole steaming routine.  Applying steam in the first few minutes (spritzing and spraying) keeps the outer dough flexible and moist, allowing the loaf to achieve its maximum volume.  After the skin sets, puberty is over and it will grow no more.  I will always be 5’2”.  The steam created from our baking sheet makes that crisp crust by gelatinizing the starch on the outside as the dough bakes.  In contrast, at the end of baking a dry oven is required (all of the water should evaporate from the pan by the end of baking).  The steam-less oven dries out the gelatinized layer and creates a crunchy crust.  If you want to know more, go here!

Bake until the bread’s internal temperature is about 425 degrees.  My oven likes to take about 40 minutes.

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