I do not know why I have waited so long to make the following pledge: From now on, I shall make my own bread. All the time. I figure I can carve out the small amount of active baking time each weekend required to make enough bread for me, my bread-loving husband and bread-loving dog to enjoy for the coming week. It's cheaper that store-bought, better than store-bought -- check that, way better than store-bought -- and completely satisfying in that rustic, making-something-out-of-nothing way. No wonder bread has sustained mankind for centuries. You look at the baked, fragrant, perfect loaf and you think: Yeast, water, flour and salt made this?? Extraordinary.
This particular recipe is one that Dad used when I was young. As I have mentioned many times in this space, Dad is quite the baker. I have many happy kitchen memories from my childhood, and a lot of them involve Dad and bread dough. I can see why this recipe was one of his favorites: it is extremely simple -- fool-proof, even -- and utterly delicious. It's a great place for me to start on my Bread-Making Quest.
It's a great place for you to start, too.
2 c. warm water (105 - 110 degrees Fahrenheit)
1 package active dry yeast
1 T. kosher salt
4 to 6 c. all-purpose flour
A sprinkling of cornmeal
Place the water in a large bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast; whisk to dissolve. Add the salt; whisk to dissolve. Add 4 cups of the flour and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Add more of the flour to make a stiff dough. The dough should be slightly sticky but firm. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Place the dough in a large bowl with relatively straight sides (as opposed to slanted sides), which enables a higher rise. Cover with a kitchen towel folded in half and place in a warm spot to rise until tripled in bulk, about 2 1/2 hours.
Punch the dough down. Cover with the folded kitchen towel and allow it to rise an additional 45 minutes, until it's doubled in bulk.
Punch the dough down again. Use a rubber spatula to loosed the dough from the sides of the bowl. Turn out onto a floured board and cut into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece back and forth with the palms of your hands, sliding hands gradually toward the ends as the dough lengthens. Roll the dough to a length that fits a baking sheet -- in my case, about 17 inches.
Sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal. Place the four loaves on the baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, make 3 or 4 slashes in each loaf, about 1/2-inch deep. Let the loaves rise, uncovered, for about 2 hours, until the loaves double in bulk.
While the dough rises, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. When you are ready to bake, place a shallow pan of boiling water on the lower rack of the oven (this creates steam while the bread bakes). Brush the loaves with cold water, then bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and brush again with cold water. Rotate the baking sheet and bake for an additional 20 minutes. Transfer loaves to wire racks to cool.
Or, you know, eat them right away, while they're still piping hot.
Makes 4 loaves.