It has always seemed to me that baking bread is a special category of baking reserved for the talented elite among us. This, pastry dough, and cakes from scratch, all belong to graduate-level baking: difficult, requiring effort and concentration, and taking much longer than you think it should.
Well, with baking bread from scratch on my 30 in 30 list, and the year coming to a close, I had no choice but to try. And I cheated a little bit. Just a little. I found the world’s easiest bread recipe. It’s a yeast bread, but with no kneading required, and it’s baked in a dutch oven instead of a loaf pan.
Here’s the recipe, which I got from the Steamy Kitchen blog, who got it from elsewhere:
3 cups bread flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast*
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups warm water
Just mix all the ingredients together in a big bowl, cover, let it sit overnight in a warm place, and it’ll puff up full of bubbles and smell nice and yeasty. Flip it out onto a floured countertop, and then shape it into a ball with either your hands or a big spoon or spatula (make sure your shaping implement is wet or things will get real sticky real fast), folding the edges up over the middle. Dust a tea towel with more flour and put the ball, seam-side down, into the towel, cover it up with the rest of the towel, and let it hang out on the counter for another two hours.
Your oven and pot need to be really hot from the start, so sometime during the two hours, put your pot in the oven and crank it to 450F to preheat. You will need a good enameled dutch oven type pot for this - check that what you're using can go to 450F, because not everything can. Take the hot pot out when it’s ready, plop the dough ball into the pot and wiggle it so it sits well, and put it in the oven, covered, for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, take the lid off and give it another 15-20 minutes – you’re looking for the crust to get crusty and brown-gold. The website I linked to says the internal temperature should be 210F when it’s done.
Wait for it to cool – and good luck waiting, because the smell will drive you insane and you’ll keep coming back to poke it and see if it’s cool enough to eat yet. It makes a delicious squishy loaf with a thin crunchy crust, and it absorbs butter beautifully.
I’ll be baking bread often, now that I know how easy it is to do. I might even try a more complicated bread, with kneading! I need something for my 31 in 31 list, right?
* I bought regular yeast, because I don’t know the first thing about yeast and didn’t actually realize there were different kinds. Well, I know there are different kinds – I studied microbiology, after all – but I didn’t realize the grocery store had two different products, an instant and a not-instant. I used the regular yeast in this recipe, which meant that I had to “proof” it before using it. I followed the instructions on the packet and mixed my yeast with warm water and a little sugar, then let it sit for a few minutes to see if it would bubble. It did, which meant the yeast was alive and farting out CO2 like it’s supposed to, so I added that bubble sludge to the flour and just subtracted that amount of water from my total.