For some reason, there is a mystique about bread. People think it’s some crazy thing to make, the result of days of tedium and difficult work, when the reality is that it’s simple.
In fact, bread cannot be simpler — this basic loaf, easy to make every week, has four ingredients (five if you include water). While it takes a few hours to let rise (do it on a Sunday, you’ll be happy you did), you can also make this using a no-knead technique. Just use 1/4 teaspoon of yeast instead of the full amount and let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours.
The best part about making bread this way is how cheap it is — homemade bread is cheap, like dollars cheaper to make than buying a pre-sliced loaf from the local Safeway. Plus, it tastes fantastic. I’m not kidding, this tastes eons better than what you can buy from a grocery store bakery. It’s soft, slightly crusty, and easy to slice.
You can use this for whatever you want, but my money is on toasting it very lightly and eating with some butter and a spoonful of jam.
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1.5 cups of lukewarm water (something like 90F if you’re being persnickety, but just use lukewarm water)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound, about 3 cups of flour
In a large bowl, add the yeast and brown sugar. Stir lightly with a small whisk. Pour in the water and whisk to incorporate everything until it’s combined and the sugar is dissolved. Let it sit in a warm place for around five minutes until you see bubbles forming.
Add the oil and the flour. With a wooden spoon, stir the mixture. It will look be too wet, then too dry, then it will even out. When the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, dump it out onto a clean, lightly floured surface. With the palm of your hand, mash the dough into a disc about one to two inches thick.
Knead! Fold the top of the dough disc over on itself and rotate by ninety degrees. Repeat the procedure, folding and turning, while glutens develop. After about ten minutes or so, it will become smooth and elastic. Clean out the bowl and spray it with some cooking spray (or just smear some olive in it).
Place the dough ball inside, smooth side up, and cover the bowl tightly with plastic. Set it aside to rise for about two to three hours, until it’s more than doubled in size.
Punch down the dough, which isn’t really a punch — just push it down with your fingers. If it’s rested and risen enough, your finger will leave a hole where you push it in. Form it into another ball shape and press it down a bit with your hands so it’s slightly (but not all the way) flat.
Heat the oven to 400F/200C. After the dough has rested for 30 minutes, dust the top with a bit of flour. With a serrated knife, cut a shallow “X” into the top of the dough. Sprinkle some cornmeal on a sheet pan. Put the dough on the sheet pan, then put the whole thing in the oven.
Your house will smell of freshly baked bread. After around 30 minutes, give it a check. If you knock the bottom of the bread it will sound hollow.
Remove to a drying wrack to cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting into it.