Monday, June 22, 2009

Artisan Bread


This is an incredibly easy bread recipe. It takes about 5 minutes (and 4 ingredients!) to stir together. Then you just let it rise for a couple of hours before baking. Easy, easy! And tasty, too. :)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough
  • Cornmeal
1. In a large bowl or plastic container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose. (I always start out mixing with a wooden spoon, thinking this time I'll keep my hands clean. But after a minute I remember that it's easier to just get in there and quickly knead it together. It's VERY sticky dough. It helps to rub a little vegetable or olive oil on your hands before handling the dough.)

2. Cover, but not with an airtight lid. (I usually just use a clean dishcloth.) Let dough rise at room temperature 2 hours (or up to 5 hours). (Sometimes I punch it down once or twice during the rising and let it rise again. This will make the texture of the bread a little finer. But if you like a coarse, rustic bread, don't bother punching it down.)

2. Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two weeks. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough and cut off a grapefruit-size piece with serrated knife. Turn dough in hands to lightly stretch surface, creating a rounded top and a lumpy bottom. Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal; let rest 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it. (I rarely have cornmeal on hand, so I just skip that part. It turns out fine.)

3. Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and turn oven to 450 degrees; heat stone at that temperature for 20 minutes. (I don't actually preheat my baking stone because the instructions that came with the stone say that's bad for the stone. So if I'm using a baking stone, I just slide it into the oven with the dough when I'm ready to bake. Or sometimes I bake the bread in regular bread pans. Or on a cookie sheet. Once in a casserole dish - because it was clean. It all works just fine.)

4. Dust dough with flour, slash top with serrated or very sharp knife three times. (You don't have to slash the top. I think that's just for looks. It's never affected the quality of the bread.) Slide onto stone. Pour one cup hot water into broiler pan and shut oven quickly to trap steam. (DON'T skip this step! The hot water and steam are very important to the recipe. If you don't have the steam, your crust will be REALLY crunchy. Too crunchy to want to eat. But cooking it in the steamy oven helps the crust stay just soft enough.)

5. Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely.

Yield: 4 loaves.

Variation: If not using stone, stretch rounded dough into oval and place in a greased, nonstick loaf pan. Let rest 40 minutes if fresh, an extra hour if refrigerated. Heat oven to 450 degrees for 5 minutes. Place pan on middle rack.

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