Growing up my mom had an electric bread-making machine that sat on our counter and it spit out decent bread, yet in the form of a perfect cube.
Outside of that machine, I’d never made homemade bread before.
Why had I never made homemade bread before? Well, generally you come across one or all of the following terms in a bread recipe: benching, proofing, punching down, etc.
All of those things send me running for the hills. I’m a much more “feel as I go” cook. I use recipes as guidelines and breadmaking isn’t exactly the niche to do that in. Also, I feel like if the water isn’t the EXACT temperature or ingredients aren’t measured perfectly you’ll end up with a brick. I don’t like bricks and butter.
But then the skies opened up and a ray of bread-based light shown down.
I stumbled across a glorious image of a crusty, artisanal loaf on Pinterest and the caption heavily emphasized how easy the bread was to make. That led me to the blog, Simply So Good and her post for crusty bread. The origins, technique, and recipe for this bread are unknown to me–frankly they’re so simple we may never know. It may even have been this New York Times article from 2006.
Regardless of where this technique came from, it’s life changing. I absolutely cannot believe this dough was so easy to put together and the end result came out of my oven. All you need is 4 of the most basic ingredients and a enameled cast iron Dutch oven.
While this recipe is easy, the dough needs to be left alone for 12-18 hours so you do need to think ahead in terms of when you’d like to serve this crusty loaf. That down time is the only downside.
Since the end result has such a high payoff and it takes all of 5 minutes to prepare, this recipe is wonderful for hostess and new neighbor gifts, and would be fabulous for parties. Of course, I would use the fact that it’s Sunday…or Tuesday…or any day to justify making this bread.
The other great thing about this recipe is that it’s just a base–you could do countless variations (three I’ve included below) to suit whatever your need is.
I’ve always wondered why people had those large drawers in their kitchens, filled especially with big bins of flour. Now that I’m on my third 5lb bag in two weeks…I’m starting to see the logic.
Welcome to the light my friends.
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1-3/4 tsp table salt
- 1/2 tsp yeast (I used quick rise yeast because that's what I had on hand, if you try this with active dry yeast, let me know how it turns out!)
- 1-1/2 c. water
- Whisk together the flour, salt, and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the water until a dough forms and no flour remains in the bottom or sides of the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temp overnight or 12-18 hours.
- Preheat oven to 450°. When oven is preheated, place an empty enameled cast iron Dutch oven (with lid) into the oven. Set your timer for 30 minutes. While pot is heating up, turn the dough out onto a heavily floured surface and lightly knead the dough until smooth and not super sticky. Re-cover with plastic wrap.
- Once 30 minutes has passed, remove the Dutch oven from the oven and drop the dough ball in. DO NOT GREASE THE POT! Trust me on this, the bread will just slide out at the end. Put the lid back on and place back in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, remove the lid and bake for 5-10 minutes more until the bread is golden brown and crusty. Remove to a cooling rack.
Cranberry Orange Variation:
When whisking the dry ingredients, add in 1/2 c. dried cranberries and zest from one orange. Stir in water and follow the rest of the recipe.
Dilly Sea Salt Variation:
When whisking the dry ingredients, add in 2 tsp dried dill weed. Stir in water and follow recipe as is. When it’s time to knead the dough, sprinkle in 1 heaping tsp of sea salt and knead until combined. After dropping the dough into the hot pot, sprinkle with more sea salt, pressing in to help it stick. Bake as stated above.
Cheddar Jack Jalapeno Variation:
When whisking the dry ingredients, add in 1/2 c. shredded cheddar jack cheese blend and 1 1/2 tsp. dried jalapeno flakes. Stir in water and follow recipe as is. After bread has baked for 30 minutes, remove the lid and sprinkle on 1/4 c. more cheese…because more cheese is always a good thing. Bake 5-10 minutes more until the cheese has melted and browned.