On November 8, 2006, Mark Bittman’s NYTimes column struck fear and terror into the hearts of bread machine manufacturers, and brought joy to anyone who might have wanted to make bread but had lists of “why I can’t bake bread…,” “why I could never touch dough…,” “why I don’t have the time…” or “why there is no space on my countertop…”
This will make plain and perfect bread with an insanely crisp crust that only comes from commercial ovens or, perhaps, the ridiculously expensive ovens that are all too frequently installed in McMansion Kitchens and never used. Make it twice and you’ll never need the recipe. And, oh, by the way, there is NO KNEADING.
Bittman’s recipe which he adapted from Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery (a GOD to all who love bread) is both stupid simple and fool proof, and I speak from experience. Four ingredients. Who could err? Moi. But the recipe really is fool proof. And adaptable. Makes Cheese Bread or Pepper Bread…
3 cups all purpose flour
¼ tsp instant (rapid rise) yeast with a package date in this century
1-1/4 tsp salt
1-5/8 cups water
1. Mix the flour, yeast and salt in a mixing bowl with a fork or a whisk. Add the water and stir until the flour has disappeared. This will be sticky and shaggy. Cover with plastic wrap and walk away for between 18 and 24 hours.
2. Flour a board. Scrape the very relaxed and sticky dough onto the board. Flouring the dough a bit, fold it over on itself. A silicone spatula is very helpful here. Cover for 15 minutes with the same piece of plastic wrap.
3. This is the fun part: take a cotton dish towel and sprinkle half with corn meal or flour. Using your silicone spatula, scrape the now very very relaxed dough onto the corn meal. Cover with the other half of the dish towel. Set a timer for 90 minutes.
4. After 90 minutes, put a 6-8 quart pot (cast iron, enamel or Pyrex) with a lid into the oven and heat to 450 degrees. Set the timer for 30 minutes.
5. After 30 minutes, remove the pot and lid. Carefully dump the dough into the pot. Slap the lid back on. Return the pot to the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
6. Remove the pot cover and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Remove the bread from the pot and let it cool on a rack.
How foolproof is this?
1. If you add too much water (an additional 5/8 cup, for instance), your bread will be a bit doughy, but otherwise fine. If I make that mistake again, I’ll add 15 minutes to the covered baking time.
2. Old yeast is fine. New yeast is excellent.
Because my pals wanted to know how to make cheese bread or a seasoned loaf, and I was concerned about adding ingredients to a yeast dough (“It’s alive!!”) without having the dough turn alarming shades of green or blue, I experimented:
3. For Cheese Bread Tipping my hat to the Stud Muffin cheese bread in Rose Levy Berenbaum’s classic The Bread Bible, I added 2 oz grated Parmesan and 2 oz grated Romano and either 1/8 tsp cayenne or ¼ tsp cracked black pepper to the dry ingredients.
4. For Pepper Bread Add ¼ tsp cayenne and ¼ tsp black pepper to the dry ingredients.