This quarantine has made it the perfect time for me to start a sourdough starter, but the cooler temps in my house and me running out of rye flour and unable to go buy any have made it slow to mature. I was hoping to make a sourdough loaf by now, but unfortunately, have had no such luck. We almost never buy bread from the store but I’m sure all the aisles are empty anyway.
Cue this recipe. This is the crusty bread recipe to end all bread recipes. It’s my go-to and it turns out beautiful every time. It’s a famous recipe by Jim Lahey and highlighted by Mark Bittman on NYT Cooking. To my initial disbelief, it’s also the easiest bread recipe I’ve ever encountered as it requires no kneading, no specific shaping, and no scoring. The only thing that it requires is time. It’s very little effort on your part but you do have to prep about 24 hours in advance and let it sit. You’ll impress everyone (even yourself) with this bread, and you won’t ever have to spend $7-11 for a similar loaf at the local bakery ever again.
This bread is perfect for sandwiches, dipping into balsamic vinegar and olive oil, a side for soup, or just by itself. It’s very crusty, which I love, but this isn’t the bread for you if you don’t like a supremely crunchy crust.
A Brief History of Bread
Bread (flour mixed with water) in its various forms has been a staple in many cultures for centuries once people were able to mill wheat (although more so in naturally fermented forms). The invention and popularization of commercialized yeast has made it easier and faster to leaven bread, hence the many kinds of yeast breads (cinnamon rolls, croissants, doughnuts, buns, etc.) and the loaves you see in the bread aisle. While naturally leavened sourdough loaves will always be the more nutritious option, there’s no dispute that yeast makes bread-making much more accessible and simple for those who don’t have the desire or time to keep up a starter.
- 4 cups of all purpose or bread flour (I like bread flour and substituting up to 2 cups of whole wheat flour)
- 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 cups lukewarm water
- In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 2 cups warm water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or lid. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. If your house is warmer, a couple hours less; cooler, a couple hours more.
- Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover with a towel and let rest for 15 minutes.
- Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to a work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a piece of parchment paper with flour and place the dough ball seam side down. Sprinkle the top with flour and cover with a towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
- At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450F degrees. Put a heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in the oven as it heats. You can also use the bowl of a slow cooker covered with a flat baking sheet. When the dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Grab onto the parchment and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is okay. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 20 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.