Many an aspiring home baker has been discouraged from baking bread by overly complex bread recipes.
This is due to a powerful secret society of bakers called the Leavening Agents whose mission it is to convince the rest of us that baking bread is a mixture of magic and alchemy. This is of course a complete fiction, but it's on the internet now, so it will be true soon enough.
Many bread recipes are intimidating. They start with grains that are hand-harvested and stone-milled before being mixed with mineral laden spring water, sea salt crystals, raw unfiltered cane syrup, clarified yak butter, free-range organic quail eggs and a sourdough starter that came over on the Mayflower. Next, the elaborate ingredients must be kneaded, rested, worked again and then proofed, following a schedule so precise that it would flummox a Japanese train conductor. Most hopeful bread bakers give up in frustration before even reaching the part of the recipe that describes how to build the wood fired oven that will be required to bake the bread properly-and who can blame them? Making amazing bread at home is impossible, right?
Not only is it not impossible, it's dead simple. Four ingredients, a dutch oven, and some patience.
I used to make this bread one loaf at a time but the single loaf never survived long enough to completely cool, much less get stale, so now I double this recipe. Ready to get a little flour on your hands?
- 4 ½ cups flour
- 2 ½ tsp salt
- ¾ tsp yeast
- 2 ¼ cups cold water
Place dry ingredients into a large bowl and stir them until just combined. Add water and mix with a spatula until incorporated. Should take 1 minute. When there are no more clumps of dry flour, you're done. Your dough will be shaggy and wet.
No need to knead.
Here's where the patience comes in. The secret to amazing bread is giving your ingredients time to interact and develop flavor. I know you're making bread because you wanted a sandwich 15 minutes ago, and waiting is the hardest part of this recipe. Be patient, it's worth it.
Cover the top of your bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for at least 6 and up to 24 hours. I've made this bread in Hawaii and it's ready to bake in 6 hours. I've made it in Alaska and it takes 14. It's ready when it's doubled in size and flat across the top-not rounded. I usually mix the dough at night and bake it the next day. I've also put it in the fridge for up to 3 days after the initial rise and had great results. Time=flavor.
Place dutch oven with heat proof lid in your oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Let it heat for at least 20 minutes. I use a Lodge dutch oven. Anything 5 quarts or larger will do. A small one will make a taller loaf and a larger one will make a flatter loaf.
Once the pot is heated, flour a clean work surface and scrape the dough (which will be very sticky) on to the floured surface. Flour the surface of the dough. Keep your hands floured as well. No kneading. Gently fold the dough into a shape approaching round-it just has to be together enough to pick up, and fit into your hot Dutch oven. It will not hold shape for long as this dough is very loose. Remove the pot from the oven and gently lay the dough into the pot with the seam sides up. The pot AND LID are smoking hot. Use a hot pad to place the hot lid on the hot pot and put back into the hot oven.
NOTE: Remember the pot and lid are HOT. The lid traps moisture, keeping the dough surface elastic and allowing the air bubbles to expand for longer before the top crust hardens.
Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the crust reaches desired color.
Remove from oven and using a spatula or table knife, slide the knife/spatula down the side and carefully lift the loaf from the pot. Cool it on a rack.
Try to let it rest for 30 minutes before slicing, but fail miserably and eat half the loaf with generous amounts of butter while it's still steaming.
Good thing you doubled the recipe, right?