A little over a month ago, I borrowed a book from a friend: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day. My life will never be the same.
I've made bread a hundred times in the past, and have always had great success. But it always seemed like a big project... exact measurements and temperatures, kneading and multiple rises; it could take all afternoon.
But really, this bread is so easy, I almost feel like I'm somehow cheating. I gave the book back to my friend Hope, but haven't forgotten this super easy recipe:
Find a large bowl. Dump in:
3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1 1/4 tablespoons salt
6 1/4 cups all purpose flour (I usually use a cup of whole wheat flour)
Stir it up for a minute or so, until the flour it all moist. It doesn't matter if it doesn't look perfect. (The canner has nothing to do with the bread. I was just too lazy to move it.)
Cover it with a non-airtight lid. Leave on the counter or somewhere room temperature, and ignore it for two hours. Then it will look like this:
Then cover it, and put it in the fridge, for at least 3 hours, but up to two weeks. Yes really.
When you want a fresh loaf, use a serrated knife, and cut off a quarter of the dough. (Or you can just quarter it up and bake it all at once. If I want larger loafs, I just cut it into thirds and bake it a little longer.) Sprinkle some cornmeal somewhere, and shape the dough, patting it with a little bit of flour when you're done shaping it. Let it "rest" for about 40 minutes. (The book talked about how it was important for the dough to rest, even though it does most of its rising the first few minutes it's in the oven.)
About halfway through the "resting" turn your oven on to 375. If you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven and let it heat up. After the 40 minutes are passed, take the pizza stone out of the oven, and gently transfer your dough. Use a serrated knife and cut some slits in the dough.
Put the stone on the middle rack in your oven, and then put about a cup of water in a pan, and put it on a lower rack in the oven. The evaporating water is part of the magical process.
Then wait 35 minutes.
Then take the bread out, and let cool on a rack. It smells really good.
You can drool a little, if you want.
It slices best if it's almost cool. If you slice it while it's hot, it will still feel a little "dough-y" on the inside. I'm not sure how well it keeps, because we always eat it within a day.
Buy the book. It has dozens of recipes that you can use the basic dough for: all sorts of savory things, and even cinnamon rolls.
So easy. Basically no dishes. And so worth it. Do it.