I love to bake bread. To me, the process is generally an easy one, and although it can take a long time most of that is down time, where you can just leave the dough alone. There’s also a sense of accomplishment that comes with it – when I see the dough rise, and when I take the final product out of the oven, I’m always like “Wow! It worked!” Of course, some recipes are more complicated than others (stupid sourdough, still can’t master that one…), so we all need to start somewhere!
As far as bread recipes go, this is about as easy as they come. It only takes 4 ingredients (5 if you count the oil to grease the pan), your stand mixer can do all the kneading for you, and you bake it in a pot so you don’t really have to worry about shaping it (or about it flattening out – I’m still talking to you, sourdough!) You do need an oven-safe pot for this; cast-iron will work wonderfully. I used a Le Creuset French oven; you’ll want to use one that’s 5 1/2 quarts or larger. By baking this with the lid on, the moisture circulates within the pan, mimicking the steaming process needed to get a good crust on the bread. When there’s a recipe that’s this easy, there’s no reason not to try baking your own bread!
- 20 oz (4 cups) all-purpose flour
- 12 oz (1 1/2 cups) warm water
- 1 tsp. active dry yeast
- 1 tsp. salt, plus more for sprinkling
- Olive oil
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, water, yeast and salt. Using the dough hook, mix on medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, 5 to 10 minutes. You may need to stop the mixer partway through and remove the dough from the dough hook if it is not developing thoroughly. When the dough looks smooth, cut off a piece and stretch it. If you can stretch it to the point of transparency without it tearing, it’s mixed enough. If not, continue mixing. (This is called the windowpane test – you can look up videos to see what I mean if it’s not clear!)
Remove the bowl from the mixer and cover it with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise until it has doubled in size and only barely springs back when you push your finger into it, 1 to 2 hours (longer if it’s cold in your work area).
At the end of the rise, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and punch it down to release the gas and redistribute the yeast. Shape it roughly into a ball, cover it with a clean damp towel, and let stand for 10 minutes to allow the gluten to relax.
Shape the dough into a tight ball – the tighter the better – by rolling it on the work surface between your palms. (There’s a good video of this on the Le Creuset website.)
Coat the bottom and sides of a large French oven or other heavy ovenproof pot (5 1/2 quarts or larger) with oil. Put the dough in the center of the pot and cover it with the lid. Allow the dough to rise again for 30 to 60 minutes. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 450°F.
Rub about 1 tbsp. of olive oil gently over the surface of the dough. Score the bread with a sharp knife or razor, making an X or a hash mark; this will allow the dough to expand in the oven. Sprinkle the dough with salt, re-cover the pot and place it in the oven.
After 30 minutes, remove the lid, reduce the oven temperature to 375°F, and continue baking until the bread is nicely browned and cooked through – about 15-20 more minutes. If you have a probe thermometer, the bread should have an internal temperature of 200°F it’s when done.
Allow the bread to cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing.
Yield: 1 loaf bread
Source: Michael Ruhlman via Le Creuset