Until a few years ago crusty artisan bread was something I admired in bakery windows and enjoyed in restaurants, never thinking it was possible to make it at home myself. And then I came across a recipe that I thought must be too good to be true. Was it really possible to make this kind of bread at home?? Oh yes. And it’s not just possible. It’s unbelievably easy!
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon yeast (instant)
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 1/2 cups water at room temperature
an oven-safe dutch oven pot with a lid
Before you get started, it’s important to know that this bread needs between 12 and 18 hours (or more) to rise. When I make this recipe I always mix the dough in the afternoon or evening of the day before I’m actually going to bake the bread, so it has roughly 16-18 hours to rise.
Start with a large bowl and a wooden spoon, and add your flour to the bowl.
Measure the yeast and add it to one side of the bowl. Measure the salt and add it to the other side.
One tricky part of bread making is ensuring the yeast does its work to rise the dough without coming into direct contact with the salt. Salt is a very important ingredient in a bread recipe for two reasons: it works to add flavour and it retards the growth of the yeast, resulting in a more even texture than breads that contain no salt. If the yeast and the salt are mixed directly, however, (or if the recipe contains not enough yeast and too much salt) the salt can prevent the dough from rising altogether.
Using your wooden spoon, stir the yeast into the flour on its side of the bowl first and then stir the salt into the flour on its side of the bowl. This will prevent the salt mixing directly with the yeast. Give the whole mixture a few good stirs to make sure everything is combined.
Once the dry ingredients are combined, measure the water. Make sure the water is at room temperature; water that is too warm or too cold can kill the yeast and prevent the bread from rising at all.
Pour the water in and stir with a wooden spoon. The dough will be rough and a bit sticky, but that’s normal.
Stir until all the flour is combined. This is not normal bread dough (there’s no kneading involved in this recipe), so you don’t need to be too concerned about the appearance of the dough at this point. Just make sure the ingredients are combined well, leave them in the bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. It’s a good idea to ensure there’s adequate space left in the bowl for the dough to at least double in size.
Place the bowl in a warm, draft-free place and let it rise for 12-18 hours. Seriously…don’t even touch it or think about it during this time. Just leave it alone and let the yeast work. No kneading required!
12-18 hours later…
After the dough has risen for 12-18 hours, preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Place your covered pot in the cold oven and let it heat up with the oven.
The recipe I used when I first made this bread (you can find it here) suggests that a cast iron pot is the best kind for this recipe, however of all the pots I’ve tried (cast iron, deep casserole dish with a glass lid, and round metal roasting pan) my round metal roasting pan has given me by far the best results with just the right amount of crispness in the crust.
Place a piece of parchment paper on the counter and dust it with flour. If you wear wedding rings, now would be a good time to take them off because this dough is sticky and turns into glue when it dries on any surface (Do you really want to spend your afternoon cleaning out all those crevices with an old toothbrush? Didn’t think so…)
Rub flour on your hands and scrape the dough away from the sides of the bowl, gathering it in your hands as best you can (it may feel kind of fluid and not at all like regular bread dough) and forming it into a circular loaf on the parchment paper.
Don’t worry if it still looks a little rough in places. This lends to the rustic look of this loaf.
Once you have it shaped, the dough needs to undergo a second rise (much shorter than the first). The goal is to handle the dough as little as possible at this stage because any amount of tugging at the rough can cause it to deflate after it has undergone its second rise. The next few steps will help prevent this. But don’t worry if it deflates a bit. This bread dough is pretty forgiving.
Sprinkle flour over the top of the loaf and loosely cover it with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming over the dough. The flour also prevents the plastic wrap from sticking to the dough so when you take it off at the end of the rise, it doesn’t disturb the dough and wreck the rustic shape you’ve created.
Let the dough rise for about 45 minutes. Your oven will also be preheating during this time (and so will your pot).
Once 45 minutes have passed remove the plastic wrap from the dough and trim the parchment paper into a circle closely around the dough. If it doesn’t look like the dough has risen that much, don’t worry about it. The loaf will puff up a bit when it hits the heat of the oven.
Remove the preheated pot from the oven and transfer the dough into the pot as carefully as possible by handling only the parchment paper.
Place the lid on the pot and return it to the oven for 30 minutes. Don’t open the oven during this time, and certainly don’t take the lid off the pot; the crispness of the crust develops because of the steam that builds up in the pot during this 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes have passed, remove the lid from the pot and continue baking for another 15 minutes.
After the 15 minutes have passed, remove the bread from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool. You’ll probably hear it crackling as it cools – this is normal.
If you can, resist the urge to cut into it until it has pretty much cooled completely. The bread continues to bake on the inside even after it has been removed from the oven and cutting it too early could result in the inside becoming gummy or rubbery.
Isn’t this just the most beautiful loaf of bread you ever did see??
It’s the perfect bread to serve alongside a hot bowl of soup, stew or chili and it makes great bakery-inspired sandwiches. And it’s always a nice way to impress your friends and family…they may not believe you when you say you made it yourself!
You can usually get about 10-12 slices out of a loaf, and each slice comes in at 3 Weight Watchers PointsPlus.
I hope you get a chance to try this bread soon! And when you do, be sure to let me know what you think!!