Have you ever been fortunate enough to smell fresh bread baking in the oven? If you have, you know it’s downright heavenly. I wanted to learn to bake bread by hand, not just in my bread machine. In search of something somewhat simple, (since I was a beginner after all) I found this gem from King Arthur Flour, (a good flour brand) and decided to give it a whirl one Friday night. Its super cheap to make, just flour, water, salt, and yeast.
And the best part? NO KNEADING!
And let me tell you, it makes the best friggin crusty dipping bread ever. It reminds me exactly of the type of house bread they served us in small Italian restaurants in Sigonella, Italy. You know the type, big air pockets inside, chewy and moist with crackly dense crust…mmm yeah. The kind that is perfect to dunk in some extra virgin olive oil and balsamic, soups, dips, or really anything. Now that my little basil plant is out of control huge, I’m thinking it’s about time to make a big batch of pesto and bake a loaf of crusty bread!
First of all, make sure you have a GIANT bowl or bucket to put this dough in. It rises a lot and the recipe makes a lot. Don’t even think about halving it-trust me you’ll regret it. (It’s that damn good) Also, if you’re confused about the flour, it depends on the way you measure it. I weighed mine on my little digital kitchen scale, but if you don’t have one, start out with 6.5c and use more if needed to get the dough to a sticky but slightly manageable consistency. Seriously, only slightly, more PITA than easy, if that makes sense. The wetter the dough (within reason) the more moist your bread insides will be. Got it? Good. Moving on.
Grease the sides of your bowl if you like, it will make it stick to the sides less. Cover your bread bowl or bucket with a cloth and let it sit at room temp to rise for about 2hrs. It should get huge. Then put it in the fridge. Good luck making room for it. Keep it chilled for 2hrs minimum, and up to 7 days if you want. The longer it sits, the tangier the flavor. Like sourdough.
When you’re ready to bake some, take the bowl/bucket out, sprinkle the top of the dough with a bit of flour, grease your hands, and grab a softball/grapefruit sized hunk of dough. Plop it onto a floured surface and shape it into whatever you like; a big circle, a log, or my personal favorite, a heart <3 Sprinkle the top with flour, all artsy-like. Once you’ve created your masterpiece, set it on a piece of parchment paper. Let it settle and rise for another 40-60min, and then preheat your oven to 450. Go ahead and get creative again and slice a few cuts on the surface of your loaf, to allow for more expansion in the oven.
Now here’s the interesting part, you’re gonna place a cookie sheet on the bottom rack of the oven right away. On the middle rack you will put your pizza stone or baking sheet for the bread. Both of these you will do now, before the oven is hot. Once your oven is hot, get a cup of water ready next to the oven, and go ahead and carefully open the door and set the parchment with bread on the middle rack, and immediately after pour that water on the bottom pan and shut the door really fast. Also don’t burn yourself during this evolution.
The goal is to trap the steam that you created in the oven, so the crust of the bread doesn’t dry out and toughen right away, allowing the loaf to expand and get even more bubbly! Mmm mmmm.
Once you set the timer for 25-35min, the best part is left…smelling that loaf bake!! Once the crust is a beautiful golden brown, it’s time to take it out and cool it on a rack.
Good luck waiting till its cool though…:D