Saturday, January 12, 2008


I have always had pretty good luck with bread, though I can't say my loaves consistently rise as high as I would like. Having said that, for years I've been trying to make your basic rustic-type loaf without any luck whatsoever. Whenever I've tried, the loaf I usually gets tastes fine, but it's almost always too dense.

I'm pleased to report that this has changed, thanks to a recipe in the New York Times food section a week or so before Christmas. Not only does this bread require minimal work--i.e. no kneading--the recipe is very loosey-goosey when it comes to rising times (bonus: you only have to let it rise once). Between two to five hours the directions tell you. I've probably made this recipe five or six times since the beginning of the year, and I can report that the longer you let it rise, the better. After two hours you get a nice loaf, but a little dense; after four hours, heaven.

So here's my version of the recipe, which is pretty close to the paper's, only different enough not violate copyright laws.
You'll need:

  • 1 1/2 packs (or 1 1/2 Tbs) active yeast
  • 3 cups of hot water
  • 6 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 Tbs kosher salt
  • cornmeal
  • a pizza or bread stone

1. Put the yeast in a large bowl; pour in water. You don't have to let it proof, but I usually do, at least for a few minutes (I throw in a pinch of sugar, just to see the yeast bubble and surge).

2. Stir in the salt and add the flour a couple of cups at a time. Make sure the dough is wet all the way through; don't leave any dry spots.

3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for at least three or four hours.

4. When the dough has risen to your satisfaction, flour your hands and tear off a big ball from the bowl. The Times' article says grapefruit-sized, but I've been doing bigger than that, more like the size of two grapefruits put together. Put this ball of dough on a cutting board or something akin to that--I use a pizza board--that's been sprinkled with cornmeal. The cornmeal is very important, because this is really wet dough, and it will not slide off the board without plenty of cornmeal to ease it on its way.

5. Wrap the rest of the dough in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. It keeps up to five days. I usually get one more loaf out of the dough. Obviously, if you make smaller loaves, you'll get more. I think it's best to use the dough within a couple of days. I've used it as many as five days later, and I don't think it rises as well. I take the dough out of the fridge at least three hours before I'm ready to bake it.

6. Let the dough rest for thirty to forty minutes.

7. While dough is resting, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. When the oven is preheated, put in a pizza stone and let heat for at least twenty minutes. Put the bottom part of a broiler pan on the rack under the pizza stone.

8. After the dough is done resting, score the loaf with a serrated knife and dust a little flour on top. Transfer the dough from the cutting board to the pizza stone. Pour one cup of water into the broiler pan and close oven door quickly, so that the steam doesn't escape. Bake for around twenty-five minutes.

After making this loaf a bunch of times, I've started setting the timer for twenty minutes, and then putting some foil over the top of the loaf when the timer goes off and letting the bread bake for eight to ten more minutes, to make sure it's thoroughly baked in the middle.

I brought a loaf the other night to a meeting, and everybody raved. It looks like it came from a bakery and has a beautiful crumb.

There are so many things I love about this bread. The making of it is simplicity itself, especially given that you don't have to time your life around multiple risings, and there's only one bowl to wash when you're done. I swear to you, if you don't have a pizza stone, this bread is worth the trouble and cost of buying one. Trust me on this. It will change your life.

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