While I am not always sustainable in my actions, I do attempt being green in many areas of my life. I’m inspired by a few external sources – my community supported agriculture, my farmers, and the farmers markets I attend. Another source of inspiration is Mother Earth News, “the original guide to living wisely.” Whenever the magazine shows up in our mail I’m like a kid in the candy store – wanting to devour it whole, but wanting to savor every page and make it last until the next one arrives. So far I have been somewhere in between.
Each issue usually has a few recipes in it about what to do with your home-grown or locally grown crops. I keep swearing to myself that I will try one or two, but up until now I have not done it. The December 2007/January 2008 issue, however, offered up a bread recipe so easy and good looking that I had to try. They call it Easy, No Knead Crusty Bread – I call it Wow-I’ve-Actually-Made-Bread-That-Looks-Like-It-Came-From-A-Bakery Bread…okay, okay, I’m really calling it Homemade Artisan Bread.
Homemade Artisan Bread
This comes from Mother Earth News, which also posted the Easy, No Knead Crusty Bread article and recipe on their website.
- 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting. You may use white, whole wheat or a combination of the two. (I used 1 cup all-purpose, 2 cups whole wheat)
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- Cornmeal or wheat bran for dusting
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Add the flour and salt, stirring until blended. The dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at least 8 hours, preferably 12 to 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. (Our apartment is not exactly the warmest, but the dough still managed to rise really well.)
The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it. Sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest for about 15 minutes.
Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or to your fingers, gently shape it into a ball. Generously coat a clean dish towel with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal (I used whole wheat flour). Put the seam side of the dough down on the towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another towel and let rise for about 1 to 2 hours. When it’s ready, the dough will have doubled in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger. (I was disappointed to discover that the dough was not rising, and thought for sure that I had done something wrong. It still turned out fine, so there was nothing to worry about.)
At least 20 minutes before the dough is ready, heat oven to 475 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in the oven as it heats. (Make sure whatever you use is oven-safe!) When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven and lift off the lid. Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. The dough will lose its shape a bit in the process, but that’s OK. Give the pan a firm shake or two to help distribute the dough evenly, but don’t worry if it’s not perfect; it will straighten out as it bakes.
Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake another 15 to 20 minutes, until the loaf is beautifully browned. Remove the bread from the Dutch oven and let it cool on a rack for at least 1 hour before slicing.
I was very happy to discover that everything went really well. I thought for sure that the oven would be too hot (475 seemed too high) or that the dough not rising during that last hour to two would mean a failed loaf of bread.
It was truly like slicing and eating bread that had been bought at a local bakery. The outside was crusty and beautiful and the inside was spongy. I was amazed. Usually my husband is tasked with making bread, and he makes a nearly-perfect loaf every time. He follows no recipe; he just dumps whatever ingredients he wants into the bread machine and a few hours later I hear him exclaiming, “Yet another great loaf. Damn, I’m good!” It was so nice to try my hand at it and succeed as well.
I would like to experiment a little with this recipe, however. I think it would be great to try adding fresh garlic to the bread or sprinkle in rosemary. It seems like it would be best to add either later in the process in case the yeast would interact poorly with them. I am also wondering if there is a way to achieve a sour version of this loaf without something like sourdough starter. Perhaps citrus acid could work or possibly a plain yogurt (I’d use soy).
At any rate, this will be one I will make again. It’s extremely easy to make, and it turned out beautifully. Here’s a closeup of that lovely crust: