Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I Made Bread! It Was Easy. You Can Too.

You know when it's August, but your iPod thinks it's December, and it plays "Do They Know it's Christmas," and you find yourself silently mouthing "Tonight thank god it's them, instead of YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUU" at a nice Asian man who clearly thinks you're about to steal his bag of lychees?

I love that.

I also love bread, but have never in my whole puff attempted to make it until this summer, assuming it was roughly as complicated as re-wiring the Hadron Collider. Then, it dawned on me that, a few years ago, Mark Bittman  published a recipe for five-minute, idiot-proof, no-knead artisan bread. It's since been updated and refined by half the population of Guam, but the essentials are there: four ingredients, a bowl, a pot, and time. So I tried it myself, and whaddayaknow? It's the best. Seriously. In all seriousness. Squared. I will eat this and nothing else until I die, presumably, of choking on bread.

Here's how you make it. (Do it! We'll have a bread party.)

First, gather your ingredients. They are:
  • 3 cups of bread flour

  • 1 little packet of active dry yeast

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

If you plan on making this baby a lot in the future, bite the $4 bullet and purchase a package of yeast from CostCo or something. It is approximately four billion times cheaper than buying it envelope by envelope, a.k.a What I'm Currently Doing.

Second, you get a large, non-reactive mixing bowl and combine your dry ingredients, a.k.a. The Ingredients You Didn't Get From the Tap.

Third, add water and stir until it becomes a spongy, dough-like mass, a.k.a. Mr. Squishy. Don't overstir, or something bad will happen. I'm not exactly sure what, but aren't you scared now?

Fourth, cover that baby. With plastic and rubber bands. Then, leave it out for at least four hours, but for as long as several days, refrigerating after those first 240 minutes. (Note: The longer it sits, the better it will taste. I've gone up to three days.) If you have a cat that's prone to eating dough (er, not that I know any cat like that) ...

... hide it somewhere, like the Cave of Caerbannog, where it will be guarded by a rabbit so foul, so cruel, that no man (or cat) has yet fought with it and lived.

A cabinet will also be sufficient.

Eventually, your dough will expand like crazy, to about three times its former size. It will also appear softer and slightly wetter. (Note cat in lower part of photo, stalking wet dough for potential lunching. His lobotomy is scheduled for tomorrow.)

Fifth, cover a clean cooking surface (a counter, mayhaps) with a thin sheen of olive oil. Turn the dough out on to the surface, and fold it over two or three times. Cover everything with plastic wrap, and let it sit at least 30 minutes, but for up to 2 hours. If it's been refrigerated, it must be given enough time to come to room temperature. It must!

Sixth, while the dough lounges around, move your oven rack to the lower third of your oven. Then, preheat that sucker to 450 degrees F. Grab a pot or Dutch oven, cover it, and stick it in there, to warm along with the oven.

This is mine. It's a 3-quart hard anodized piece of Calphalon, but I'm fairly sure any sizable, oven-safe covered pot will do. (Have doubts about yours? Look it up on the interwebs.)

Seventh, once everything is good to go, CAREFULLY remove the hot pot from the oven and VERY CAREFULLY place the dough into it. SUPER CAREFULLY cover it, and COLOSSALLY CAREFULLY place it back into your oven. Bake for 30 minutes. I CAN'T EVEN EXPRESS HOW CAREFULLY YOU SHOULD remove the cover. Bake an additional 15 minutes, or until the top of your bread is nicely browned. If you see it starting to burn, get it out of there.

Eighth, flip the bread out on to a wire cooling rack. It should look something like this:

And one more time, in black and white, for posterity:

Ninth, once it's cool enough to handle, eat that bread. It may seem like a big loaf at first, but I promise on all that is good and pure, none of it will go to waste. Here's the above loaf, 30 seconds later:

And finally:

Happy baking!