Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Simple Crusty Bread

I love making homemade bread. It seems like something that should be difficult, intimidating, and labor intensive, but it's really very easy.  It does takes several hours from start to finish, but the amount of labor involved really only takes about 15 minutes. The rest is simply rising and baking, allowing you to go about your day. It smells wonderful as it bakes, and there's nothing better than biting into bread still warm from your own oven.

A friend of mine first introduced me to this recipe at a dinner party.  She served it warm, with garlic infused olive oil and I fell in love.  It's rustic and crusty, yet soft inside. Perfect for dipping into this soup, eating with a smear of butter, or even slicing and making into garlic bread.  

The crazy thing is that you only need four ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt.

Start with lukewarm water.  It should be warm to the touch but not at all scalding.  Add the yeast and salt and let it sit for 5 minutes.  

Slowly stir in the flour until a sticky dough forms.  

Transfer the dough into a greased bowl so it won't stick to the sides when it comes time to take it out.

Cover the bowl with a towel and let the dough sit at room temperature for 2 - 5 hours.

After the dough has risen, it will look something like this.  Mine didn't rise very well, which might be attributable to yeast that was not very active or the fact that the salt was added early in the bread-making process (this article does a good job explaining the purpose of salt in bread making, if you want to get nerdy with me).  At this point you can either bake the dough or store it in the fridge for up to two weeks.

There are a few options for how to bake the bread.  I cut the dough in half and shaped it into small loaves on a greased cookie sheet, like this:

You could also make one big loaf and bake it on a cookie sheet or in a bread pan. Alternatively, you can follow the original instructions if you have a pizza stone.

Sprinkle dough with a small amount of flour and score the top with a sharp knife.

Place a pan in the bottom of the oven with a couple of inches of water in it to aid in baking the dough.  Bake the dough in a 450 degree oven for 20-25 minutes for two small loaves.  When it's finished it will be brown and firm to the touch, like this:

Slice and enjoy!

Simple Crusty Bread
Adapted from New York Times

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 1/4 teaspoons (one packet) yeast
2 1/4 teaspoons salt 
3 1/4 cups flour

Pour the water into a large bowl and sprinkle in the yeast and salt.  Let sit for 5 minutes. Gradually stir in the flour until a sticky dough is formed.  Transfer the dough into a greased bowl and let stand, covered, for 2 - 5 hours.  Divide the dough in two and form into two loaves on a greased cookie sheet.  Bake in a 450 degree oven for 20 - 25 minutes, along with a second pan with 1-2 inches of water.  

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