This weekend, I flew to Des Moines for the Women, Food & Agriculture Network’s annual conference. It was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life–learning food preservation techniques, meeting women who run successful organic farms, being in a room with more than 50 other people equally concerned about sustainable food systems.
One of the best parts of the weekend was the evening before Saturday’s conference. I’d just flown in & was taken directly to Jasper Winery, where we had a celebration of women in the arts. I grabbed a glass of wine & joined a table where a mom & her two daughters were sitting. The family had driven in from Kansas City; the older daughter wanted to go to college for agriculture, so on their way to visit a school they decided to come to the conference.
I felt immediately at home, & brought into the fold of their family. We shared our concerns about what children these days are eating. We talked about pickling, with the mom convincing me that I could successfully make my own sauerkraut. By night’s end, I was excited to make my own crème fraiche (with her recipe). The next day, we again found each other & continued our conversation.
When I mentioned that of all foods, breads of all kinds are my favorite things to work with. Bringing together flour & water with your hands to provide one of our oldest forms of sustenance, the feeling of breaking bread with family & friends–nothing tops that. But, I explained, with only the two of us it’s hard to eat all that fresh bread before it loses some of its wonderfulness. She had the perfect recipe, she said. She cut down the proportions for a reasonable two-person loaf & gave me the recipe. I felt honored.
I will not share that recipe today, but I will share what I’ve found to be the easiest bread recipe in the world. I’d been holding onto a recipe for pain au cocotte since November of last year, when I found it in our grocery store’s weekly flier. Their recipe, however, failed me. I had to throw away a glob of crumbling mess that had become a glob of gluey mess when I tried to add more water.
When a friend (who has a fun project going on over at her own blog) pointed me toward the following video, I couldn’t wait any longer. I did some more research & pieced some things together, so here we are: a successful, simple recette (recipe) for pain au cocotte. I am less particular about my flour than some (as T55 & T80 & all that can prove difficult to find), but the mix of the two is important for the bread’s texture.
Au cocotte simply means “in a casserole,” so you simply cook the bread in a casserole–hopefully a dutch oven, so that the sides get good & hot, helping the bread’s exterior get crispy. Two of my favorite French words?
la mie: the bread’s soft interior
la croûte: the bread’s crispy exterior (crust)
- 300 grams whole-wheat bread flour
- 200 grams all-purpose, enriched white flour + some for flouring the work surface & your hands
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons + a bit (or one packet) active dry yeast
- 30 cl water
- a dutch oven (or oven-safe casserole)
- Combine dry ingredients and whisk together. Add water. Stir with spoon until incorporated, then knead with hands for six minutes (until the dough pulls from the sides and forms a good, resilient dough). Feel free to flour your hands & add a bit more flour to the dough, but don’t go hog wild or the dough will become too heavy.
- Let the dough rest for half an hour, covered with a towel in a warm place.
- Punch the dough down. Plop onto a floured work space and knead for two minutes. Many recipes suggest flattening it out into a rectangle, then folding the corners in on themselves, then folding the corners in again.
- Take your dutch oven, tear off a large sheet of parchment paper & tuck it inside. Place the dough on top of the parchment. Cover, & let rest for 30 minutes. Cut an X in the top.
- Preheat oven to 460 degrees F (240 C). Place dutch oven in middle rack, & bake for 30 to 35 minutes. When done, the dough should sound hollow when tapped.
I’m excited to share more of my adventures at WFAN’s conference with you. I hope you love this recipe enough to someday share it with a wide-eyed girl at a conference, who admits she’s trying to do it all herself & struggling to find the time. It could mean a lot to her.
I’m also really excited about this bread’s potential appearance on our camping adventures. What could be better than waking up before the sun to bake bread before heading on the day’s hike? I guessing not a lot. I’ll keep you posted.