Remember all that hooha when Jim Lahey's no-knead hit the blogosphere a year or two ago? Forget it. A recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois appeared on the Chicago Tribune site the other day, and I frankly can't imagine anyone making the other one anymore. This is not only the easiest, most flexible bread recipe I've ever encountered, it also produced just about the best bread I've had in my life!
When you go to the site, in addition to reading the article, be sure to watch the video—it really is that simple. The real beauty of it, though, is that you can make one big batch of dough (which takes about 1 minute, honestly) and use only part of it that day, then keep the rest in the fridge for another day! That means that you can make a small loaf of fresh bread every night for dinner, rather than making two big loaves and then having to deal with storing the leftovers, which are never as good as the original. Indeed, Amy at Cooks Talk told me that the loaf she made the second day, from the refrigerated dough, was even better than the first! I haven't made my second loaf, yet, but I'll let you know. I think that the batch of dough I made will yield about four loaves of the size I made this time.
I intend to flip through the book next time I'm at the bookstore; apparently the "master recipe" can be adapted in endless ways. For instance, Amy said that to make a peasant loaf, you just substitute ½ cup rye flour and ½ cup whole-wheat flour for 1 cup of the all-purpose flour, but do everything else the same. The authors also have a blog, which looks very interesting and will surely answer any additional questions you might have.
OK, ready to get baking? Here we go.
Simple Crusty Bread
1½ Tbsp yeast
1½ Tbsp kosher salt
3 cups lukewarm water
6½ cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting dough
Mix yeast and salt into the water in a large bowl. Stir in the flour, mixing until there are no dry patches; the dough will be quite shaggy. Cover, but not airtight. Let the dough rise at room temperature 2–5 hours.
Bake immediately, if desired, or refrigerate, loosely covered, for up to 2 weeks (the dough is easier to handle when it's cold). When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on the dough; cut off a grapefruit-sized piece (and refrigerate remainder if making only one loaf). Turn dough in floured hands to lightly stretch the surface until smooth and round on top and lumpy on the bottom.
Heat oven to 450°. Sprinkle a pizza peel with cornmeal. I don't have a pizza peel, so I just used the back of a cookie sheet. The cornmeal acts like little ball-bearings to let the loaf slide off the pan or peel. Place the dough on the
peel cookie sheet; let rise 40 minutes if fresh, 1 hour if refrigerated. Meanwhile, place a broiler pan on floor of oven. My Viking has a heating element on the bottom, so I placed the broiler pan on the lowest rack. Place a baking stone on the middle rack. If using a loaf pan without a baking stone, stretch rounded dough into an oval and place into a greased, non-stick loaf pan.
Dust loaf with flour, slash top in a cross with a serrated knife. Slide loaf onto baking stone or, if using loaf pan, place loaf pan on middle rack. Pour 1 cup water into the broiler pan; close oven door quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes; cool completely before cutting.
But more importantly, it tastes so. freaking. good. I waited as long as I could before slicing into it and then just wolfed down most of it, slathered with butter.