There is nothing better, in my opinion, than home made bread baking in the oven- perfuming the house and warming the kitchen.
This summer I randomly became obsessed and somewhat neurotically consumed with becoming the best bread baker in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I don't know where this bee in my bonnet came from. All I know is- it was there, I was hooked. My afternoons were consumed with perfecting every bread recipe I read about. I didn't just start by baking one loaf of bread that sweltering August day, I made 8. Yup, 8. (I may have some addictive personality traits, but I say- the verdict is still out).
The first realization I had about bread making is how utterly simple it actually is. The recipe I now have etched in my brain is a traditional french recipe for an artisan loaf that takes 5 minutes to make. It's 4 simple ingredients. Sugar (or honey), salt, water, yeast and flour. It's vegan, which I never even knew that bread could be- I always assumed the ingredients for bread included eggs and milk (shows how much I learned in school). The artisan bread loaf I've come to love and the recipe I'm going to share with you today is called a free form artisan loaf, because it doesn't require the classic "loaf pan" you may typically imagine when baking bread. I now make this bread everyday first thing in the morning. I pop it in the oven a half hour before I go to pick my husband up from work and by the time we get home, it's ready to enjoy.
I happen to use a standing mixer but this recipe works just as well with a bowl and a wooden spoon, like they did in the old days.
1 c. luke warm water (the temperature of bath water).... remember not to get it too hot or it will kill the yeast
1 pack of fast active dry yeast
1/4 c. sugar (or honey)
3 tbls. salt (I prefer kosher or sea salt, it's less salty than iodized)
2 1/4 c. all purpose flour (or any flour you prefer)
- Pour one cup of luke warm water into the bowl of your standing mixer, or regular glass mixing bowl.
- Pour in 1/4 c. sugar and mix until dissolved.
- Sprinkle the yeast on top of the water. I like to wait until it gets kind of creamy looking, which tells me it's alive (with the sound of music)
- I add 3 tbls. salt on top.
- Finally I add 2 1/4 c. all purpose flour to the bowl and start mixing until JUST incorporated. The dough is very sticky. I like my dough with less flour, but if you feel like you want to add a touch more, feel free- the beauty of cooking is in the experimentation. 🙂
- Put a tea towel over the dough in the bowl and let it rise for 2 hours in a warm place. I always leave mine right by the oven. After 2 hours or so (it doesn't need to be exact) punch the dough down and let it rise again. This dough definitely needs a minimum of 4 hours to rise, but I've found that the longer I let it sit out, the tastier it becomes. Sometimes I've left it over night and the yeast creates an intensified sour and sweet combination.
- Set the oven for 375. Grease a 9 in. cast iron skillet with oil. Put the free standing sticky dough ball in the skillet. Take a butter knife and score the top of the dough ball with any kind of decoration you like. I like simple hatch marks.
- Bake the bread for 30 minutes, nothing less. Please don't open the oven or check the bread. It releases all the hot air and doesn't allow for as much crust on the top and bottom of the loaf.
- Remove from the oven and let cool if you like. Otherwise, don't worry about it and slice it up.
~ Tips I've learned while making this Recipe~
- Some people say it's best to put a pot of boiling water in the oven below the loaf of bread your baking. While I have found that to be true for other recipes, this one doesn't require it- in fact it makes the loaf soggier in the middle and takes a tad longer to bake.
- With other artisan breads it's incredibly important to allow the bread to cool completely before slicing. It allows all the moisture to lock into the loaf and doesn't get so dried out. With this loaf, imagine it as your every day loaf of bread....something that the peasants used to make. It's nothing fancy, just super simple, delightfully quick to make and requires no skill. It's virtually fool proof.
- I found that I love to bake in my cast iron skillet, but if you don't own one, not to fret. You can put your loaf on a baking sheet (just make sure it's oiled), I've used a dutch oven in the past and even a loaf pan, if the spirit moves you.
~ If you like this recipe, please feel free to leave me a comment. I'd love to hear your thoughts and share some recipes you've come to love. Leave your recipes in the comment box and I'll try them out- my favorite one- I'll post. 🙂 Thanks so much for being a part of the Organicopia Family!