Things I Love: Homemade Bread Made Easy

finished bread

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I love to bake. But even though I’m home pretty much every weekday for about six hours at a time without anyone else in the house, I don’t bake all that much. Or at least I don’t bake a lot of fussy stuff.

I really love to bake bread. I would love to have fresh-baked bread for supper every night (though if I did, I’d be having to take that resolution to exercise more a lot more seriously). We do get homemade bread pretty often, and the reason is Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

I got this book for my birthday right before the Bit was born, so it took me a while to delve into it, but it was absolutely the best thing for getting fresh bread on the table with a baby in the house. Now that I’m home by myself all day, I still make this bread a lot. I am working while she’s gone, after all, and it is simple and good and it makes me happy without a lot of work on my part.

(It does not, however, only take five minutes. At least not for me. I timed it once and it took me six minutes to make the initial dough, but I was rushing to see if I could do it in five. I’d say it takes at least 10 for the initial dough making, and all the steps involved in the baking probably take another 10. But still, not too much time.)

My go-to recipe from this book is the “European Peasant Bread,” an easy round loaf. Other than the rye flour, you probably have everything on hand you need to make it right now. The idea is that you make a big batch (enough for three or four loaves, or you can use the dough for other applications like foccacia, pizza, pitas, etc.) and keep it in the fridge until you need it. It’s supposed to keep about two weeks, but it usually doesn’t stay around that long in my house.

This is my slightly altered version of the peasant bread (I upped the level of whole wheat and rye flours to make it more peasanty).

What You’ll Need

  • 3 cups warm water (I nuke mine, which comes from the filter in my fridge, for 45 seconds in the microwave)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (that’s 2 packets, if you use packets)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt (relax, it’s three loaves)
  • 1 cup rye flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur for the white and wheat, Bob’s Red Mill for the rye)
  • a kitchen scale, waxed paper, extra flour
  • a little cornmeal for the peel when you get to that part, and a pizza peel
  • a baking stone and a sheet pan with sides for the oven

What You’ll Do

  1. Mix the yeast, salt and water in the bowl of your mixer (you can also do this by hand or in a food processor, but I’ve never done it that way). Add in the rest of the ingredients and mix.

    bread dough mixing
    I love my Kitchen Aid!
  2. When the flour is all incorporated, I usually let it mix for a minute or two (which could be why this takes me longer than 5 minutes) then take it off the mixer. It doesn’t make a ball of dough, and it is still pretty sticky.

    dough ready to rise
    Ready to rise.
  3. Cover with a non-airtight lid (you can see mine in the background of the picture above) and let sit at room temperature about 2 hours. In my bowl, this is enough time for the dough to rise up to the top and start sticking to the lid.

    risen dough
    The risen dough.
  4. If you’re not going to bake right away, at this point you can put the lid back on and stick it in the fridge. If I’m baking the same day, which I usually am, I try to lightly punch down the dough (with floured hands, please!) and let it rise again for an hour or so before baking. That extra time helps it develop more flavor. The picture above is actually after the second rise. Anyway, when you’re ready to bake, get out your kitchen scale and cover it with a piece of waxed paper. Flour up your hands and the dough again and break off a piece of dough that weighs about a pound (if you don’t have a scale, the book says that’s about the size of a grapefruit).

    weighing bread dough
    The dough on the scale; it's still pretty soft.
  5. Gently and quickly shape the dough into a round. There’s no kneading involved, just shaping. When you’re done, transfer to your pizza peel that you’ve generously sprinkled with cornmeal.

    resting bread dough
    The dough rests before baking.
  6. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes. Then put your pizza stone and the sheet pan in the oven (the sheet pan goes on a rack under the stone, or on the floor of the oven if there’s no heating element there), crank it to 450, and let your dough rest a further 20 minutes, or however long it takes your oven to get that hot. When you’re ready to go, slash the top of the bread a few times with a serrated knife.

    cut bread
    The bread with cuts is ready for baking.
  7. Fill a cup with about a cup of hot tap water. Quick as you can, slide the dough onto the baking stone and pour the hot water into the pan and close the door. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the dough is nice and brown. I’ve pretty much always done exactly 35 minutes.

    finished bread
    My finished bread.
  8. Let it cool if you can. Eat. Enjoy. Repeat the baking process a couple more times, then make more.

I made and cooked up this loaf yesterday, and I’m making another one today. I may need another batch to get me through the weekend. We are a bread-loving people. I also got these authors’ healthy bread book, which features more whole grains, for Christmas, so I’m sure I’ll be exploring more loaves made with this method soon.

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