I have wanted to have a go at bread making for quite some time, many years in fact, but something about it has always scared me. It has always seemed to me to be such an accomplished thing with so many skills and rules to master. Of course, I bet plenty of you make bread very successfully and will happily tell me I am wrong. Nothing to be afraid of Lucy! And yet, the fear had lodged itself and would not be shaken. I have the same fear about roasting joints of meat. Fear of messing it up, of wasting precious time and ingredients and feeling like a huge big flop.
Besides, I live in a town with the most excellent local bakery just five minutes walk down the road. And what's the big deal about getting all doughy anyway? What's the big appeal?
Most likely the smell. Oh, the smell of freshly baked bread filling the kitchen is pretty high on my list of Very Most Excellent Smells. And at a time of year when we are spending many cold, wet, gloomy days confined to home, the idea of filling it with mouthwatering smells followed by warm, fragrant taste sensations is pretty appealing.
On the very last day of 2013, I threw caution to the wind and pushed my bread-making fear aside. I had been lurking in the depths of the www and somehow stumbled across this post. It describes (in beautiful, no-frills detail) how to make the sort of bread that I adore :: Artisan bread. The sort of chewy, tasty bread that has an air-holey middle and a crusty outer. The sort of simple, rustic bread that I associate with my time spent in the Greek islands. Perfect for dunking and mopping, in soups, dips and flavoured oils.
Janet made it sound sooooo simple. And the best, most wondrous thing of all, aside from the simplicity of the four basic ingredients, is that this is NO KNEAD BREAD. No knead I tell ya!!! How can this possibly be true? How can this be so easy?
But really, it is this simple. The ingredients are flour, water, yeast and salt.
That. Is. It.
Janet's recipe is written in US terms, so I had to do a little bit of research and experimentation to translate the ingredients and measurements. I'll write out my English recipe at the end of this post for you, but here are a few notes....
The flour (called "All Purpose" in the US) is basically plain flour in the UK. I have tried normal plain white flour and it worked just fine, but I had slightly better (lighter) results by using strong white flour.
The water just needs to be tepid (barely warm) from the tap.
The salt is normal sea salt.
The yeast is the dried stuff which you can buy in a sachet or a tin. It looks like little granules (as in the second picture above). If you use "active dried yeast" it works fine but you're looking at 18-24 hours rising time. If you use the finer, "instant dried yeast", the rising time is quicker, more like 12 hours.
When you mix these four things together, you get a lump of wetish, sticky, shaggy dough. Remember, no kneading! Just good mixing is all you need to do. Then you simply cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave it in a warmish place to rise. You leave it for aaaaaaaages, 12-20 hours in fact.
After that time, it looks like a bubbly, gloupy, sticky, unappealing mess. Seriously worrying actually. But persevere, and squish those worrisome feelings back down. Replace them with optimism.
Now this dough is VERY STICKY. You need to be prepared. Get some hot, soapy water into your sink ready to deal with your hands which will be covered in very sticky dough in a short while.
You need to heat your oven and your cooking vessel, heat them both up for 30 mins. You need a very hot oven, and a suitable pot/substantial dish with a lid. Something like a casserole pot.
Prepare your work area - a sheet of greaseproof paper or baking parchment and LOTS of flour. Scrape your dough out of the bowl. It will by floppy and sticky and wet. Flour your hands, and gently shape the dough into a smooth ball. Plenty of flour, you are only shaping, not kneading.
It should look something like this. Not bad eh? Optimism, remember! Cover it with clingfilm and leave it rest for 30 mins while your oven and casserole pot heat up. Now go wash your sticky, dough-covered hands, and be glad that I told you to have some hot soapy water ready.
After 30 mins, the dough can go into the casserole pot. Before you plop it in, take a strip of baking parchment about 4 inches wide and lay it across the bottom of your pot (this will enable you to lift your loaf out when it and the pot are both red hot). Now plop your dough in, it'll lose it's shape a bit, but don't worry. It'll be fine.
Put the lid on and put the pot straight back into the hot oven.
You have 30 minutes to wait.
Go and do something AbSoRbiNg to take your mind off worrying about the success/failure of your Artisan Loaf.
Now this next bit is pretty amazing. Take your pot out of the oven and remove the lid...........
The transformation is so completely fabulous, you will be gasping with pleasure and hopping with delight! Leave the lid off and put it back into the oven for 15 more minutes to brown up the crust.
Ta-dah!!!!!!!!!!!!!! One gorgeous loaf of Artisan Bread. It really IS this simple.
And it really DOES look (and smell) this good.
I honestly couldn't beleive it when I made this first loaf. I was incredulous. It didn't seem possible that this good looking loaf could be made with such simple ingredients and equipment and so little work!
I managed to let it cool for maybe 15 minutes before cutting into it.
The texture inside is wonderful. It is full of air bubbles and soft and chewy.
My very first slice was slathered liberally in butter. Oh my.
It was really very, very, very good. Very good indeed.
This robust, rustic loaf of homemade bread made me so VERY happy last week, it really did.
Of course, we all devoured it in a single day, it was just too good to leave alone. So that evening I mixed up a second batch of dough so that it could sit over night. It takes maybe 5 minutes to weigh out and stir up the ingredients, it is so simple and so quick.
My second loaf was made the same as my first, but with poppy seeds pressed onto the surface.
That really did make a fantastic bread even more awesome.
My third loaf the very next day had sunflower seeds added in. Super good. And after a little bit of research on the www, I have compiled a little list of potential add-in ingredients to try in the very near future....
lemon, rosemary and gruyere
cranberry, orange and almond
raisin, walnut cinnamon
pumpkin, sunflower and poppy seed
mixed herb with rosemary, chives and thyme
sun dried tomato and basil
olive, garlic and rosemary
Here is my UK recipe conversion, I urge you to give it a try.
400g strong white bread flour
1/2 teaspoon instant dried yeast
1 tsp sea salt
300ml tepid water.
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave for 12-18 hours in a moderately warm place. My kitchen is freeezing (no heating) so I stand my bowl near the radiator in the living room.
You need a casserole pot or pyrex dish, something with a lid that will withstand high heat.
Oven temp is hot! 450F / 230C / Gas 8
Heat the oven and the pot for 30 mins before the bread goes in.
Shape the dough into a ball, cover with clingfilm and and leave it to rest for the 30mins it takes to heat the oven and pot.
Bake for 30mins, remove the lid, bake for a further 15 mins. Remove to a wire wrack to cool slightly.
Slice, and enjoy every mouthful.
ps more info about the origins of no-knead bread can be found here.
PPS the US version of the recipe can be found here.