(For related posts, please see the JLMBBC section.)
I'm sure you're all dying to know what I've been doing in the copious free time I've had since being laid off from the abattoir and wrecking my truck. Answer: I've been baking bread. A lot of bread. Maybe a half-dozen loaves in the past week. And it's good bread: boule-like objects that come out crusty-hot, with an audibly shattering crust that flies off when cut with a knife. Do I have some fancy, steam-injected oven to get that crust? Or perhaps I'm throwing ice cubes in a pre-heated cast iron skillet in the bottom of the oven?
Nope. I'm just dumping the dough in a big pot. And I'm not kneading either. In fact, I'm not going to much work per loaf at all. And I'm not the only one making this good, low-work bread. Boatloads of people across the country are cooking this bread, and busily tweaking the recipe to get the bread they want out of simple ingredients and equipment they probably already have.
Can you do this? Well, yes. Is it hard? No. Do I have the stuff I need? Probably. Do you have flour, water, yeast, salt, a big bowl, and (this is key) a big pot with a lid that will go in the oven? If you don't already have that big pot, I bet you can get one cheaply. I saw something appropriate a few days ago in a discount grocery store for about $18, or you can use that monstrously expensive heavy Le Creuset dutch oven too. Just make sure the handle won't melt in the oven.
Don't want to go read? Ok, but before you start, be aware that the rise time for this bread is between 12 and 18 hours, so you're looking at an overnight project. Don't be discouraged. Just start cooking.
- Put 3 cups bread or all-purpose flour in a big bowl. Add about 2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 tsp. (yes, that's only one-quarter teaspoon) of yeast. Stir. Add 1 5/8 cups of water. Stir. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Set aside.
- Come back in 12-18 hours or so. Do you have a good doubling or tripling of the volume of dough? Good. Poke dough with finger, making indentation. Does it stay indented? Excellent. Shape the somewhat wet dough into a ball in the bowl. Re-cover.
- Come back in 15 minutes or so. Reshape into ball. Cover.
- Come back in 2 hours or so. Put your coverable, oven-safe pot in the oven, and turn oven on to 450 degrees.
- Come back in 30 minutes or so. (This part is tricky, so pay attention and don't do this while you're drunk or distracted or the like, or you'll burn the f$ck out of yourself.) Very carefully, remove the pot from the oven and sit it on something oven-safe. Put a pot-holder or the like on the pot handle, else you'll forget and burn yourself in about 2 seconds. I'm not kidding. Dump the ball of dough into the hot pot. Carefully put the oven-safe lid on and put the pot back in the oven.
- Take some butter out of the refrigerator if necessary for face-feeding when bread comes out.
- Come back in 30 minutes. Very carefully, using a pot-holder or the like, remove the scorching-hot lid from the pot. A pair of tongs may work well here, depending on the lid. Leave a pot-holder or something on the pot lid so you don't accidentally pick it up and burn yourself before it cools. Leave the pot itself in the oven. Close oven.
- Come back in 15-30 minutes. (I can't give you an exact time on this, because, among other things, it depends on the shape of the pot you're using.) Is the loaf nice and brown? Good. Very carefully, and using a couple pot-holders or the like, remove the pot from the oven and dump the bread out on the rack. Set the pot down on something oven-safe, and leave a pot-holder or something on the pot so you don't accidentally pick it up and burn yourself again. The bread is hot also, but you probably knew that. :) Set it upright on the rack, uncovered, so it can cool while staying crusty. If you cover it up, it takes longer to cool and doesn't stay crusty.
- This is where a true professional would tell you to let the loaf cool for an hour or so before cutting it. If you agree and want the loaf to cool, by all means do so. But if you're like me, you can wait about three seconds before you've taken the bread off the rack, whacked off a slice with a serrated knife, smeared as much butter as you possibly can on the slice, and shoved it in your pie-hole, because damn, it's good. If you put the bread back on the rack after you've fed your face, it'll cool more nicely. But again, you're probably like me, and you came back 2 or 3 more times for more hot bread, and one of those times you left it on the cutting board. I promise I won't tell anyone.
- Make some more bread, tweaking the recipe to your own taste and predilections (the careful observer will see that this very recipe is tweaked from the instructions on the above-linked pages).
There. Wasn't that fun? If you want tweaking guidelines, I'd suggest reading Bittman's second article above, entitled "No Kneading, but Some Fine-Tuning." If I were a true professional, I'd give you my own guidelines for tweaking and the like. But I'm gonna go eat some bread instead. ;)