I know it’s Halloween and all, and most of you are probably out roaming the streets dressed like witches and ghosts and chubby pumpkins, but I have bread on the brain. And in my world, bread wins out over candy any day (except for the dark chocolate kitkats that may make it home in my kids’ loot, of course), so today I want to chat just for a minute about bread.
Like, the best, most delicious bread ever. That kind of bread.
Years and years ago in another place and lifetime (i.e. the first month I ever blogged), I posted about the famous no-knead bread that was taking the world by storm (from Jim Lahey published by the New York Times). It’s a fabulous recipe and I hope every single one of you have experienced it. But if not, now’s the time, methinks.
The crusty, artisan, extremely simple bread has been made countless times in our house since then. But I have to admit, I’ve started cutting corners over the years. The original recipe is easy as can be, but I didn’t like the mess of splatting the bread onto a flour-dusted towel or counter (the last thing I need is extra laundry or more sweeping).
And the whole “flip the bread upside down in the pot” totally stressed me out. Even though the bread turned out, I realized for my emotional health and well-being I needed to stop flinging the dough around like a madwoman.
Enter one of my favorite kitchen tools: parchment paper. (And in the interest of full disclosure, I never would have thought of this except that my really smart Aunt Marilyn tipped me off.)
Instead of transferring the dough and using flour or cornmeal or anything else prone to ending up on the floor, the entire shaping and rising and baking process happens on an unassuming sheet of parchment paper and it has revolutionized an already revolutionary recipe (along with measuring my flour a little differently so the dough is waaaay less sticky and maddening to work with).
I am not exaggerating when I say I make this bread several times a month because it hardly requires any brain cells and yet manages to be so amazingly delicious. And because I can’t leave you totally hanging, I included a step-by-step picture tutorial below the recipe. Just to ease any lingering fears (seriously, fears be gone…you need to make this).
This recipe is best baked in one of those enamel cast iron pots (I have a pretty old Mario Batali version which works great; Le Creuset is another obvious, popular brand) but there are lots of tips online for using other types of pots. I’ve given a few tips in the notes of the recipe – but please, please, please, for all that is good and breakable, make sure that whatever you use is heatproof to 450 degrees. Ok? Thanks.
Oh, and one last note. This bread is fabulous with a variety of add-ins: asiago cheese, rosemary and cranberries, herbs and lemon zest, on and on. Options = endless. It’s straight out of the bread basket at a fancy-shmancy restaurant, except that it’s coming from your kitchen.
This recipe is easily doubled (or probably tripled if you have enough pots and oven space). If you don't have a heavy enamel cast iron pot, you should totally get one (kidding, kind of) - or you can try using other items. My aunt uses her sturdy crockpot insert (covered with tin foil not the crockpot lid) and my cousin has used a glass Pyrex bowl. Just make sure that anything you use can withstand a 450 degree oven.
This bread recipe works great if you want to use any add-ins. Some of my favorites are shredded or cubed Asiago cheese, cranberries and fresh rosemary, herbs and lemon zest...the options really are endless. You can add them into the dough before you scrape it out of the bowl.
- 3 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (about 17 ounces)
- 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 cups room temperature water
- In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix until the dough is combined and has a shaggy, sticky texture (it's easiest to just get in there with your hands and do the job).
- Cover the bowl with lightly greased plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 12-18 hours. It will get puffy and bubble.
- Scrape down the sides of the dough and let it gentle deflate. Turn it out onto a lightly greased piece of parchment paper and using your hands (lightly grease them if the dough is sticking too much) pat it into a thick oblong shape.
- Fold one of the long edges to the middle. Fold the other long edge over the top, forming a thick log. Take one short end and fold it in toward the middle and repeat with the other short end - basically like folding up a blanket or towel.
- Carefully and quickly flip the mound of dough over so the seams are on the bottom. Cover with lightly greased plastic wrap and let rise until puffy and doubled, about 2 hours.
- About 30-45 minutes before the dough is ready, heat the oven to 450 degrees. Place a 6- to 8-quart heavy cast iron pot (like the popular enamel covered ones) in the oven as it heats and let it stay there for 30-45 minutes.
- When the dough is ready, remove the pot from the oven and take off the lid. Lift up the corners of the parchment paper and set the bread and parchment paper right into the pot. Cover with the lid and return to the oven to bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove the lid from the pot and bake for another 10-15 minutes until the top of the loaf is browned and lovely.
- Carefully grab the corners of the parchment paper and remove the bread to a wire rack to cool completely.
Recipe Source: adapted from one I posted in January 2008 from the famous Jim Lahey recipe