It's spring, and I have so many ideas and projects that I'm planning and dreaming of that my head feels like it might explode. I also have a disgusting cold, which might be contributing to that feeling. It seems that when I'm just to the point of being overwhelmed by something, that's when I avoid it like the plague, retreat into my head and physical space, and do something easy, comforting, and familiar. (I do know that the thing that knocks that out of me is forcing myself to find related inspiration and diving right into whatever it is. When I'm excited and inspired, it all flows beautifully.)
All of that is to say that this bread is what I retreat to. Seriously, it is possibly the easiest thing in the world to make, and even if you've never baked bread before, you will have success (as long as your yeast is viable - be sure to check that first, especially if you don't use it often). The other lovely thing about this recipe is that it's super flexible - timing isn't crucial (except for the baking part), the dough can be placed in the fridge for up to two weeks once mixed (it actually tastes even better if it rests in there for awhile), you can experiment with different types of flour - it's just about perfect. The bread is crusty, chewy, full of air pockets, and the ideal vehicle for an open-faced sandwich since it holds up so well.
The Best and Easiest Bread, Ever
Makes 2 loaves; takes as long as you need it to. Hands on time is a few minutes, rising time is at least a couple of hours (but only necessary once) and baking time 50 min. This recipe can also be halved.
In a large (really large) mixing bowl, measure 1 1/2 tbsp yeast, 1 tsp salt and 3 cups of warm water. Let it sit for a minute to let the yeast dissolve while you fetch your flour and measuring cup, then add in 6 1/2 cups of flour. (All white is dreamy, but a mix of whole wheat and white works very well, too.) Stir with a sturdy wooden spoon until all of the flour is incorporated. It should look something like this as it's coming together, and fairly shaggy and damp once everything's mixed well:
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap sprayed with a bit of oil and let rest in a warm place for as long as is convenient, at least a couple of hours, maybe less if it's a really warm day. Do not use a damp dish towel - the dough is very wet and will stick to the towel, then when you put it in the wash, your load will come out with tiny little bits of dough cement hardened all over every item. (I may have done that more than once.) If it rises and you need to leave the house, just pop it in the fridge; make sure the cover will let it breathe, especially if you leave it in there for more than a few hours.
When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 475 (yes, that's correct) with your cooking vessels inside. I use a round dutch oven and a cookie sheet. The crust does turn out slightly better with the dutch oven, but the results on a cookie sheet are also delicious.
Divide your dough into two equal blobs on a lightly floured countertop. Gently shape them into roundish mounds and let them rest until the oven is preheated. Once the oven is ready, take out your super-hot baking vessels. In the dutch oven, plop your dough in carefully, cover, and place in the oven. The other loaf can be plopped onto the hot cookie sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, remove the lid from the dutch oven and bake for an additional 20 minutes.
This is the loaf baked on the cookie sheet - the crust is a bit drier and doesn't have the nice blisters of the one baked in the dutch oven, seen at the top. But it's still delicious! Break out the butter, and enjoy!