Is there anything so mouthwatering as fresh bread slathered with butter? Or how about a tomato sandwich made with crusty, chewy bread and drizzled with olive oil?
Making bread at home can be so intimidating that many people never venture to try it. For years I never made anything that required yeast. If a recipe needed yeast, it was categorically rejected along with recipes where eggs had to be separated or a food processor was required. I didn't want to be bothered with waiting for something to rise was unsure about the whole process of buying, storing and using yeast.
Actually, it can be found in any grocery store and stored a very long time in the refrigerator. It has also been a pleasant surprise to learn that recipes which require yeast detail how to make the product just like any other recipe. It's really not mysterious at all. The first time I made this bread I was very disappointed to say the least. The dough is very wet, and I used way too much flour transferring it to the oven which made an ugly mess. I had to cut off all the crust, which was just fine with my son who never eats the crust anyway, but it bothered me because I love a good crust. However, I tried again a few days later and had better results. I have now made this recipe 4 times and am persuaded that it's strengths outweigh its shortcomings. This bread recipe has two major strengths. The first is that the dough doesn't require kneading which means it also doesn't require a heavy duty mixer or dough hook. The second outstanding feature is that this bread has superior flavor because it utilizes a long, slow rise. If you want top notch flavor in your bread, it needs to rise slowly so that the flavors can develop. This bread uses a minuscule amount of yeast, but over time it raises the dough and fills the kitchen with a wonderful homey smell. This long, slow fermentation also gives the finished bread those distinctively uneven holes and that toothsome texture and requires no effort from the baker.
The recipe was developed by Jim Lahey and can be found here. The basic formula is to mix up the dough the day before you want to bake bread. The dough should be wet enough to stir with a sturdy spoon. This will sit and do its mysterious fermentation overnight so that you have a fragrant dough to work with the next day.
The recipe instructs you to use a cloth for letting the dough rise, but I found parchment paper easier to work with and clean up. You can see in these three photographs the transition from a blob of dough, to a nice firm ball of dough, to a fully risen dough ready for baking. You can tell it's ready to bake when a poke with the finger doesn't spring back.
For baking, it's important to heat the pot and lid you're using as you preheat the oven. The purpose of the lid is to seal in the moisture from that sticky dough, creating steam inside the pot. Professional bread bakers use steam injection ovens to get this effect because it produces exceptional crust and allows the dough to expand more fully before it dries out and hardens. I also cut an X in the top of the last dough I made before putting the lid on and baking it which yielded a prettier loaf. I like to eat pretty food.
This is home made bread for the people. Super duper simple and straightforward, this recipe requires nothing more than flour, water, yeast and salt. You'll also need to leave it unattended for long periods of time, letting the yeast do the work while you get on with your day. If you're still a little unsure or if you just want more information, you can see a video of the whole process with the baker on Martha Stewart's website. The video is on the left. Happy Baking!