People sometimes say bread baking is an artform, because there are so many ways it can go wrong. Activating yeast is like walking a tight-rope: if the water is too hot, it kills the yeast; if the water isn't warm enough, you won't activate the yeast at all. Either way, the bread won't rise and you'll be left with something that doesn't exactly taste good.
I've never had too many problems baking bread, but I found a recipe recently that I knew I wanted to try. Why? Because it seemed way too easy to be true. I started it last night and baked the bread today -- and, I have to say, it's the perfect bread for people who don't like baking bread. It tastes amazing, has a dense, lovely texture, and a crunchy, rustic crust. It's basically perfect and with only minimal effort.
The original recipe called for a lot of steps I ended up skipping. But, here's the basic recipe:
In a bowl combine 3 cups of flour with 1 3/4 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of yeast, and 1 1/2 cups of water. The mixture will seem shaggy and you'll wonder how it will ever turn into bread. Be patient. Cover the bowl with a towel, plastic wrap, or a plate. And walk away.
That's right, leave it. Overnight is the best. It needs to sit for about 12-18 hours, but can proof for as much as 24 hours. You heard me. You literally won't touch this bread again for 18 hours. I slept and went to work before I acknowledged this bread again.
When you're ready to get down to bread baking business, you heat the oven to 400 degrees. You'll need one large ceramic baking dish with a lid or two small baking dishes with lids. I used Pyrex dishes and they worked fine.
The original recipe called for you to preheat the dishes in the oven for 30 minutes. I found this unnecessary and kind of terrifying. Most enamel and ceramic baking dishes will chip if you heat them with nothing inside them, so if you don't want to ruin a dish, skip that step. It didn't make a difference either way for me.
As your oven is preheating, heavily flour a surface. I mean, heavily flour. Dump your dough onto the counter. If you're using two baking dishes, chop the dough in half with a knife. Either way, form the dough into a ball (or balls) and cover with flour so it won't stick. The dough will be super soft and kind of difficult to actually form any kind of circle, but just pretend it's a perfect circle.
Once your oven is preheated, spray the bottom of your cooking dishes, and the sides, with nonstick cooking spray. The original recipe didn't say to use nonstick anything, but I'm terrified of things sticking in dishes, so I did it. It didn't hurt the bread. I also sprinkled a bit of cornmeal in the bottom of each baking dish, but this is mostly a personal thing and you can skip if you hate or just don't have cornmeal.
Baking the bread with the lid on for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for about 15-17 minutes after that. The bread with be golden brown and firm when you remove it from the oven. And delicious. Did I mention delicious? Yes. I removed mine from the dishes immediately and let cook on a cutting board.
There it is -- crusty, warm, dense, soft, and tasty. It has almost a sourdough flavor without the pain of actually making a sourdough starter. Danny and I will be enjoying ours with some chicken and gnocchi soup tonight. Yum yum.
You know what's also great about this bread? Add ins. Yep! In the "mix up the ingredients" phase, you can pretty much add whatever you want. Spinach, garlic, and cheese. Feta and pine nuts. Orange zest and cranberries. Lemon and rosemary. Olive oil and thyme. The list goes on and on. It's the perfect recipe.