In recent years I’ve gone from a yeast-o-phobe to a bread baking fool. Even after I felt I had a good grasp on cooking, any attempts I made to create a bread product involving yeast came with a forgone conclusion: guaranteed failure. Finally, one day I got a wild notion to make english muffins, and thanks to the guidance of a book from the good cook Alton Brown, I was able to overcome my yeast fears.
Since then, I started making my own bread on a regular basis. It’s often enough now that I rarely buy bread at the grocery store. As usual, most recipes make more bread than two of us will eat within a week, so I have devised several good uses for what remains of the bread later in the week. (More on that later.)
So for those fearful of the yeast, who don’t have a bread machine, or simply would like to know exactly what is in the bread they eat (such as no preservatives), here’s my go-to recipe for a good bread that pares well with, well anything really!
Simply Good Bread
4 cups all purpose flour (500g)
1 1/2 cups water (warm, about 100 degrees F)
1 tsp active dry yeast
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp wheat bran or wheat germ
Mix the flour, salt, honey, and wheat bran in a mixing bowl or the bowl for your stand mixer. Pour the water over the top, and sprinkle the yeast onto that. Let it sit for about 2-3 minutes, or until you can smell the yeast. Mix either with a spoon or a dough hook if using a stand mixer. Knead either by hand or by mixer with a dough hook until the dough becomes fairly smooth. (With my stand mixer it takes about 5-7 minutes.)
While the dough is kneading, turn your oven on the lowest heat setting possible and leave it on for one minute, then turn the oven off. Once the dough is kneaded, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the oven. Let it rise for 1-2 hours, until it doesn’t spring back if you press it with your finger.
Remove the dough from the oven and bowl, and knead it slightly. Reshape it into a ball, cover with a not-fuzzy towel and let it rest for about 10 minutes. (Towel fuzz in your bread does not add fiber!)
Lightly coat the inside of a dutch oven (if you have one) or spray a sheet pan with oil. Roll the dough into a tight ball and place it into the dutch oven or on the pan. Cover with lid or lightly oiled plastic. Let it rise for another 30 -60 minutes, this time not in the oven.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly rub a bit of oil onto the top of the bread and sprinkle it with kosher salt. Cut an X or # into the top of the bread, no more than about 1/4″ into the bread’s surface. Bake for 30 minutes (leave the lid on if using a dutch oven). Drop the temperature to 375 degrees F and remove the lid. If baking on a sheet pan, after 30 minutes, drop the temperature to 375 degrees F, and watch so it does not become too brown. If it appears perfectly golden brown, you can cover it loosely with foil.
Bake until the bread is about 200 degrees F inside and browned on the outside, about 10-15 more minutes.) Cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes prior to cutting.
Recipe adapted from Dutch Oven Bread by Michael Ruhlman – His books are a valuable asset to my cookbook collection. Ratio is one of my favorites, and you can pick it up at your local bookstore or order it from Amazon.
This bread is great with soups, for toasted sandwiches such as a panini, or just served alongside a meal. It has a rustic look to it, so every time I make it looks and tastes slightly different. Adjust the ingredients as you like for your tastes. Here’s a few ideas:
- Use bread flour in place of all-purpose. It creates a somewhat different texture, and is good for thick slices.
- Swap the honey for olive oil.
- Use ground flax, oat bran, or your choice of similar ingredients to enhance the texture and increase fiber.
- Replace up to half the all-purpose flour with wheat flour. If you use more than half, you’re on your own!
While this does make more than two people likely will eat in one meal, it can be used in so many ways that I thought it a good choice for this blog. Coming up… a use for some of the leftover bread!