Lamar’s Basic Bread Recipe
Most of us have heard bread referred to as the staff of life, a metaphor overflowing with truth. In his documentary series “Cooked” (available on Netflix), Michael Pollan devotes one of the four episodes to bread, and makes, almost casually, the observation that given only grain and water a person cannot long survive, but given flour and water he can do quite well since he can make bread.
Simply put, bread is nothing more than flour and water, with perhaps a little salt. Given this simplicity, bread is not the bug-a-boo that I had always thought it to be. Bread is, believe it or not, quite easy to make and bake; and it’s a blank canvas on which you can express yourself almost without end. Don’t believe me? Here’s my recipe for a traditional loaf, rustic or otherwise.
3 cups all purpose flour,
1-3/4 tsp salt,
1/2 tsp (heaping) active dry yeast, and
1-1/2 cups of water, at room temperature.
In a large bowl mix the dry ingredients (flour, salt, and yeast) together with a whisk. Mix in the water using a dough whisk or the dough hook attachment for your stand mixer to blend until well combined. I like to coat the inside of another large bowl with olive oil and transfer the dough to the coated bowl; it will be easier to handle once it’s time to get it ready for the oven. Cover the bowl and allow it to sit at least 12 hours. I like to prepare bread late afternoon or early evening with the goal of baking it the next morning. I also like to put mine in the oven with the light on (you don’t need to leave the light on for 12 hours; just the first hour or so works) – it keeps it away from the temperature variances associated with air conditioning, and also provides a modicum of warmth from the light to get things going.
When you’re ready to cook, place a covered Dutch oven or covered cast iron loaf pan in your oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Staub makes a really nice heirloom quality cast iron covered loaf pan if you’re dead set on a loaf that looks like the loaf your accustomed to at the grocery store; it’s also better if you’re going to make sandwiches with your bread.
Flour your work surface (I use a large piece of parchment paper since the texture of the paper helps to ensure that the whole work area holds flour; if I’m making more than one I’ll get out a large jelly roll pan which I generously fill with flour and use that). Remove the dough from the bowl (a bowl scraper is an invaluable assist at this point), putting it on the floured work surface, and with floured hands form it into a ball (or a loaf, if using a loaf pan). No kneading is required, though you may want to fold it a couple of times to get the shape you want. Place the dough in the bottom of your Dutch oven or loaf pan, taking care not to burn yourself as the oven/pan and lid are very, very hot. Bake for 35 minutes with the lid on; remove the lid and bake another 10-15 mins until the bread is golden brown. At the end of this time you can thump the top of the loaf and get a beautiful hollow sound that say’s “I’m ready”. Remove all from the oven and place on a cooling rack until the bread is cool enough for you to lift it from the Dutch oven or flip it out of the loaf pan.
Easy, huh? And you’ll be amazed how good your kitchen smells, in addition to taking great pride in that golden loaf of goodness you just made yourself. Have some butter handy – you’ll probably not be able to resist fresh, warm bread with melted butter.