I love a good loaf of crusty bread. I should probably love it less. But until this week, I was too intimidated to try it at home: all that kneading, all that letting-it-rise-perfectly, all that timing, all that care with temperature and crust. I was content just to buy it from Wegmans. I never begrudged them their $2.25 for a lovely loaf. BUT... what about if I could make just-as-good bread, or better yet, what if my kids could make just-as-good bread, with about five minutes of work... and at less than 50 cents per loaf? I'm sold!
I was skeptical when I heard about this recipe. Could it really work? The only ingredients are three cups of flour, 1/4 teaspoon of yeast (yes, that's it), 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, and 1 1/2 cups water. But yes, yes it did.
There are some things to remember as you're baking:
1) The dough looks and acts more like batter than dough the whole time.
2) Follow the recipe and directions exactly. I usually tend to think that more of a good thing is a good thing, so I toss it in. Not so in this case. The instructions are easy and simple. FOLLOW them.
3) Except you don't need to follow the rising instructions to the minute. We let our bread rise for almost 24 hours (partly because we have a sort of cold house). Not sure it was necessary for it to go so long, but it worked great.
4) When you're putting the dough onto the towel to fold, use LOTS of flour on the towel. Not just a dusting. The dough will stick to the towel in any case, but using lots of flour on the towel to wrap the dough in will help it not stick. It absorbs some of the flour on the second rise (90 minutes), so if you only have a dusting then the whole mess will stick. Even if that happens, it still bakes up great, though. Dip your hands in flour when you're handling the dough to put it into the cast-iron pot.
Madison dumped the ingredients into a bowl and mixed them. It looks like a very loose dough or a strong batter. It rose for an entire day. Then we turned it out onto a towel, folded it a few times (I say "folded," even though battery dough doesn't fold easily), and let it rise again. Then using well-floured hands we picked up the mass and put it into the preheated dutch oven, put the lid on, and let it bake (at 450!) for half an hour. Then we took the lid off and finished off the baking. We followed the advice of a friend and let the bread rest for an hour before eating. And BOY was it great.
By Debra Ross, from the Perfect Loaf of Bread recipe at Sullivan Street BakeryFormula:
3 cups (430g) flour
1½ cups (345g or 12oz) water
¼ teaspoon (1g) yeast
1¼ teaspoon (8g) salt
olive oil (for coating)
extra flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal (for dusting)
Two medium mixing bowls
6 to 8 quart pot with lid (Pyrex glass, Le Creuset cast iron, or ceramic)
Wooden Spoon or spatula (optional)
Two or three cotton dish towels (not terrycloth)
Mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add water and incorporate by hand or with a wooden spoon or spatula for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Lightly coat the inside of a second medium bowl with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest 12 hours at room temperature (approx. 65-72°F).
Remove the dough from the bowl and fold once or twice. Let the dough rest 15 minutes in the bowl or on the work surface. Next, shape the dough into ball. Generously coat a cotton towel with flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal; place the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with flour. Cover the dough with a cotton towel and let rise 1-2 hours at room temperature, until more than doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 450-500°F. Place the pot in the oven at least 30 minutes prior to baking to preheat. Once the dough has more than doubled in volume, remove the pot from the oven and place the dough in the pot seam side up. Cover with the lid and bake 30 minutes Then remove the lid and bake 15-30 minutes uncovered, until the loaf is nicely browned.