after the storm

after the storm
Welcome autumn!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

easiest bread EVER ...

I used to bake bread many years ago but it had been a while. I started up again in February. I wanted to bake sourdough. I had a starter years ago but when I finally threw it away after too much neglect. I took the easy way and ordered a starter from King Arthur Flour. I do want to put in a plug for King Arthur. The information and recipes on their website are amazing. They have a great community of bread bakers who are so helpful in their community forum. You can even call them if you are having a problem and there is a person to help. I think their flours are wonderful. {I will tell you about my pie experience one of these days.} I won't spend time now telling you about all the breads I have made in the last few months because I want to tell you about THE EASIEST BREAD EVER. Really. The crust is divine, the taste amazing. It is a rustic bread that would stand up with any bakery bread out there.

In 2006, there was an article published in the NY Times about Jim Lahey's bread making method. There have been so many versions. I don't think it matters which version you use. I just want to tell you about it because it is so easy and so delicious! I missed it in 2006 but found this recipe at Williams Sonoma. I had to give it a try. If you have no experience making bread, using yeast freaks you out, and you don't want to knead, you will still be able to make this bread. All you need is time, a bowl, measuring utensils, a few simple ingredients and a heavy, oven proof pot. This process is long but your time with the actual making is probably about 10-15 minutes.


3 cups flour (it can be bread flour - I use King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt (Wms.S recipe calls for 1 3/4 so do according to taste)
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast (yes, that is correct, only 1/4 teaspoon)
cornmeal, as needed
1 1/3 cup water (Wms.S recipe calls for 1 5/8 which I think is too much)

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. You will probably want to try the recipe as is for the first time but if not, feel free to add any extras you would like. I have made this with lemon zest and rosemary. Our favorite add-in is black sesame seeds. I don't really measure - about a tablespoon maybe? I just kind of do it by look.

Add the water. A note about the water. I live in a really dry climate. I have found that adding a bit more water than this works well for my climate. The dough should be shaggy (you may not really know what this means, I didn't. You will know what it means after you have mixed this together.) and very sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it alone for 12-18 hours. Depending on when you want your bread ready and when you have time to attend to it, will depend on when you start it. For me, I have found that Saturdays are great bread days so I mix up the dough Friday night, after dinner. The 12-18 hours is very flexible. I have almost always gone for the 18 hours. Your dough will look something like this:

This is dough with black sesame seeds. If you look closely, you can see that it is dotted with small bubbles (click on the photo to make it larger). Yours may have bigger bubbles, fewer bubbles, just as long as it is bubbling a bit. My kitchen is probably about 75° right now. If your kitchen is very cold, you may need to let the bread sit for longer than 18 hours.

Lightly flour a work surface and your hands. Gently remove the dough from the bowl onto your work surface. Don't worry if the dough feels really sticky. Fold over the dough once or twice and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rest for 15 minutes.

The next step involves flour sack towels if you are using the other recipes but I have found a piece of parchment paper works really well. I just sprinkle cornmeal on a piece of parchment paper. Again, coat your hands with flour and if the dough is so sticky, you can't work it, add just a little bit. Gently shape into a ball. Don't worry if it isn't perfect. Put the dough, seam side down on the piece of parchment paper. Dust with more cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel (don't use terry cloth). If you don't have a flour sack towel or a non-terry dishtowel, a large cloth napkin will work. Let the dough rise until it is more than double in size. I have to admit, this part always stumps me a bit. How do I know if it is double in size? Do I measure it? Do I take a photo? I have let my perfectionism go on this and just know that after 2 hours, it is ready to go. Some say to poke it and if it doesn't spring back, it is ready.

At least 30 minutes before the dough is ready, put a cast-iron pot in the oven and preheat the oven to 450°F. This is another discrepancy in the recipes. I use 450°. I have still not seen if this includes the lid. I don't know why but I don't preheat the lid. I am guessing you probably should. I have heard about people having problems with the handles. I have not. You can use a variety of sizes. Jim Lehay recommends a 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 quart pot. Williams Sonoma recommends a 2 3/4 quart pot. Both use the same amount of ingredients. I double my recipe and use my 5 1/2 quart Le Creuset dutch oven. You can see by the photo that the doubled recipe still leaves some room. My friend uses a cast iron pot. Another dug through her camping equipment and found a old cast iron pot. It needs to have a lid and be able to be in hot temperatures in the oven. I read that someone bakes this bread in cans left over from pineapple or tomato juice.

Remove the pot from the oven. Again, choose your method. Some say to slide your hand under parchment paper and turn the dough over into the pot. It will look like a mess. Just shake the pot once or twice so the dough settles in. Others just lift the dough up on the parchment paper and place the whole thing in the pot. I have done it both ways and it turns out great either way. I have settled into removing the parchment paper before it cooks but you don't need to. As the dough hits the pot, you will even get a faint whiff of how wonderful your kitchen will be smelling soon. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the loaf is brown. The recipes say to cook for 15-30 minutes. I tend to do 10 minutes. It's up to you and how cranky your oven may be.

Put the pot on a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Carefully (the pot will still be hot), remove the bread from the pot. This is the hardest part of the recipe. Let the bread cool. Yes, cool it before you slice it.

I have been baking this while I worked on this post. Don't let my rambling scare you away. Trust me this is really good bread and it is easy to make. It smells amazing in here. Now, the hard part, waiting for it to cool.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

for you...

Have a wonderful day!