I went to the store to buy a loaf of crusty bread to accompany a hearty chowder when I had a culinary stroke. Small loafs ranged from $4 to $6, with the most expensive (Brioche) in the $9 range. I began to wonder if the flour they were using had magical powers that would make me taller or better looking. Or perhaps their yeast came from the far away land of Narnia or packaged in the kitchens of Hogwarts. But no, their ingredients were the same that I had in my kitchen.
Bread making became wildly popular in the late 90s when bread machines flooded the market. Then people realized how difficult a bread machine was to maintain and operate with very small loafs as a result. Most machines were sent to kitchen purgatory where I guess they remain today. So why then has bread baking been abandoned in western culture? I figure if our ancestors can make bread with a wood fired stove and some basic ingredients, there’s no reason why we cannot do the same. So in honor of all our ancestors who baked bread daily without the use of any fancy kitchen equipment, I’m going to empower you today that if you have a cast iron pot and basic pantry ingredients in your house, you too can make an artisan bread loaf that you will be proud to serve with your next meal.
- 3 c bread flour
- 1 1/2 c + 2 tbsp water
- 1 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp dry active yeast
1. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and yeast. Add the water and stir until combined. The dough will look shaggy and rough, but this will even out as the proofing occurs.
2. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. If you want, write the time you prepared the dough on the plastic to remind you how much time has passed. Let sit on your counter or in a warm room for 14 – 18 hours. Temperature is key here. 70 degrees will yield a comfortable temperature for the dough to work its magic.
3. When you see lots of little bubbles at the surface of the dough, it is ready to work with. Flour a work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Fold the dough over onto itself once or twice and cover with plastic. Sprinkle the top with some more flour and let sit for 15 minutes.
4. Flour your hands and shape the dough into a ball. Lightly oil a mixing bowl and place the bread loaf, seam side down, into it. Dust the top with more flour and cover with another towel. Let the dough rise for another 2 hours.
5. 30 minutes before the dough is ready, put a dutch oven (or cast iron pan) into a cold oven and heat to 450 degrees.
6. When the dough is ready, remove the pot from the oven (please be careful) and set on the stove. Remove the towel from the top of the dough ball. Turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. It’s going to look like a mess and you may think that something went horribly wrong, but the cooking process will fix everything.
Note: This is artisan bread, it is meant to be imperfectly shaped, a little oval, uneven, etc. This adds to the uniqueness of each loaf. If you would like to add any scores, cuts, or design to the top, take a razor blade and really sharp paring knife and cut just the top of the loaf. Any cut will be become exaggerated when cooking.
7. Arrange your racks so that the dutch oven will sit in the center of your oven. Put the lid on the dutch oven and cook for 25 minutes. Then remove the lid and cook for up to 15 minutes until the top has reached the desired darkness.
8. Turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack and let cool for at least 1 1/2 hours.