Homemade bread bowls

Great for thick soups or stews

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ASHLEY MEYER
Photo by Ashley Meyer

Frugal and full of comfort, homemade bread bowls are an ideal baking project for a blustery autumn weekend. They can be made in one day but, like many yeasted breads, these bread bowls will have the best flavor if allowed to rise slowly overnight. This recipe makes five softball-sized bowls, but can also be used to make one big bowl (baking time will be closer to 40-45 minutes), perfect for filling with creamy spinach or cheese dip.

This flavorful dough is quite forgiving and works equally well for making pizza or a loaf of crusty French bread. The recipe calls for milk powder, which has become one of my favorite "secret ingredients." It enhances the bread's flavor, improves its structure and helps it develop a golden brown crust. Try adding two tablespoons of dried milk powder to your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe for more nuanced flavor and a delightfully chewy texture.

Thick soups or stews – such as chili or broccoli-cheese – work best in these bread bowls. Reduce kitchen waste by saving broccoli stems to use in a hearty, nourishing soup. Finely chop broccoli stems, either by hand or in a food processor, along with an onion, a couple stalks of celery, a carrot and several cloves of garlic. Season with salt and pepper and sauté in a heavy-bottomed soup pot with some butter or olive oil until softened, then add four tablespoons flour and cook a few moments more. Add a quart of hot broth or milk and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Cook for 10 minutes, then remove from heat. Stir in a handful of grated cheese, adjust seasoning to taste and serve.

Whole Wheat Bread Bowls
2 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup powdered milk
2 teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoons instant yeast
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cup room temperature water

Combine the above ingredients and mix together until just combined and you have a shaggy, rough dough, then set aside to rest for five minutes to allow the flour to absorb the water. After the dough has rested, knead it by hand until you have a smooth, elastic dough that springs back when pressed and doesn't tear when stretched.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover it with a towel and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place for 45 minutes. You can create an ideal proofing environment by microwaving a cup of water for one or two minutes then placing the covered dough inside the warm microwave to rest. After 45 minutes the dough should be puffy but not quite doubled in size. In order to prevent a dense finished product, avoid over-proofing the dough at this stage

After the dough has risen for 45 minutes, punch it down then divide it into five equal pieces. The best way to do this is to use a digital kitchen scale. Weigh the finished dough, then divide the weight by five to get the precise size for each piece. Roll each piece into a round ball and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet, then cover with greased plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least four hours, and up to 24 hours. Allowing the dough to rise slowly in the fridge will result in deeper flavors and a sturdy, crisp crust.

Remove the dough balls from the fridge at least two hours before you plan to serve them. Uncover and let them sit for 30 minutes while the oven preheats to 425 degrees. Just before baking, score the tops of the bowls with a sharp knife or snip with scissors so steam can escape and the dough can expand. Bake for 25-30 minutes until they are deep golden brown and make a hollow sound when tapped. You can also check for doneness using a meat thermometer. The interior temperature of the roll should read at 190-200 degrees.

Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for at least 45 minutes before serving. To serve, slice off a lid with a sharp serrated knife, then use your fingers to scoop out the middle of the bowl, being careful not to tear a hole in the exterior of the roll.

The leftover bread that's been torn out of the bowl makes excellent croutons, bread crumbs, or stuffing for your Thanksgiving turkey. To use for stuffing or bread crumbs, bake the dry bread pieces in a low 275-degree oven for several hours until completely dried out. For croutons, toss with olive oil and seasonings, then bake in a hot 375-degree oven until toasted and crispy.

The intact bread bowls will freeze well, but wait to hollow them out until you're ready to serve them. Wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap and store in a zip-close bag. Thaw overnight on the counter, then warm briefly in a 350-degree oven to crisp up the crust before hollowing them out and filling.

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