Easy Artisan Bread
I’m not much of a baker. I bake because I like to eat baked goods, not so much because I get any kick out of measuring out flour and using my mixer. In fact I find the precision required (thanks food science) rather frustrating. You don’t know how many brownies I’ve ruined because I’ve taken poetic license with one step or another. And bread? The just-right water for blooming yeast, the art and science of kneading and rising and … ugh.
Since writing about the welcoming awesomeness of bread, I’ve been asked if I have a good bread recipe, but I honestly did not. I had mostly baking failures until that point and have been happy with letting professional bakeries take care of our needs. Then I tried my mom’s artisan bread recipe that she’d recently started using — not actually one I’d grown up with, but amazingly delicious and surprisingly not very labor intensive. Mind you it still takes a few hours from start to finish, but you’re not doing much during that time. The final result is soft on the inside with a crust lover’s dream crust! (i.e. thick and crusty. This is no sandwich bread)
I must warn you, though. Although I love the end product, I love this recipe most because it is easy. However, it doesn’t necessarily follow all the rules of bread-making–it’s a shortcut. For a full lesson in all the chemistry involved and “proper” procedure, see this series from Serious Eats. I just can’t commit to all those steps on any given day. But as I get more comfortable with this recipe, I may let science nudge me into tweaking this or that. With that said, let’s get down to business!
Step Two: Mix all 4 ingredients–dry stuff first, water last. Active dry yeast is supposed to be bloomed first, but amazingly even without doing that critical step, I still get a nice loaf. I plan to bloom next time and I will gladly report the results. My guess is I’ll probably need less total yeast.
Add in more water/flour as necessary to get a nice smooth dough. Not too stiff and dry, not too watery.
Next cover the bowl you mixed this in with plastic wrap. If you accidentally bought bad plastic wrap that doesn’t stick, add a rubber band 😉 — If your home is relatively warm, set the bowl anywhere in the kitchen. If it’s hot in your house, set it in a cooler place. If you keep your home on the colder end, find a warmish spot or turn on your oven and set it nearby. Then leave it alone for 1.5 to 3 hours.
Once your dough has sat and risen it will be full of bubbles thanks to gluten and yeast doing their thing. First, sprinkle some flour on your work surface. Then take out your dough carefully. Don’t overstretch or rip it out. Be gentle-ish. I like to sprinkle a bit of flour on the top and sides while using a spatula to help get underneath it.
Now it’s ready to fold. Fold and fold it onto itself, stretching some as you pull one side and fold. How many times? 15-20. Use flour if it’s super sticky, but you don’t need to smother it in flour. It still needs to stick to itself as you fold.
Finally cover that sweet round ball up with a towel and let it rest for about 30 minutes.
While your bread dough is resting, preheat your oven and cast iron skillet to 400.
Before you bake that lovely dome, sprinkle a little flour on top and cut a crosshatch into it. (I overdid the sprinkling and ended up with a bit too much flour on my last loaf. Still learning.) Now is time to pick up that big blob of pillowy softness and plop it directly into the hot cast iron skillet waiting in the oven. Bake for 50-60 minutes.
My favorite toppings for slices of this bread include butter, smashed avocado with seasoned salt, or eggplant spread topped with feta cheese and grape tomatoes. Enjoy!