At 8am this morning, the weather app on my phone told me it was 16 degrees outside. It’s official: winter has come to New York.
Today is a pajama day—a day to stay at home, drink hot beverages, watch TV, and make bread.
Oh, you didn’t think about that last part, did you? “I don’t have a bread machine”, you say. “I’ve never kneaded dough before”, you say. “Making bread? That’s hard”, you say.
In the immortal words of Shia LeBeouf, “No no no no no. No!”
Yes, I made that. And you can make that, too, I say.
It all began last week when I saw this. In 2006, Jim Lahey introduced Mark Bittman, and thousands of home cooks, to an exceptionally simple and effective way to make (& break) perfectly crisp, crusty bread at home. The method requires a little bit of mixing and 24 hours of largely unattended time. The results are aromatic, delicious, and impressive!
Adapted from Jim Lahey and Mark Bittman
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1/4 tsp. INSTANT yeast — do not substitute with the active dry variety
- 1 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cups water (room temperature)
- a big bowl
- 2 cotton—not terrycloth—towels (I used an old pillowcase, cut apart to make two “towels”)
- really good oven mitts
- a Dutch oven (cast iron, enamel or Pyrex all work)
- 24 hours, largely unattended
Combine dry ingredients in a bowl, and stir together until they are mixed thoroughly. Add water, and mix everything with your fingers until all ingredients are incorporated. The dough will be wet and sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest in a warm area of your home.
Now, find something to do. The dough needs to rest, undisturbed, for 18 hours. (I went to sleep for the night, got up, went to a cooking class and met friends for coffee while my first dough rested.)
After 18 hours, your dough will be dotted with bubbles. Gently pull the dough from the bowl and lay it on a floured working surface. It will still be really sticky; don’t worry. Dust the top of the dough with some flour, and fold the dough on itself once or twice. Cover the dough — loosely — with plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Lay a cotton towel (or pillow case) in a large bowl, and generously coat the towel with flour or cornmeal. Using just enough flour to coat your hands, quickly shape the dough into a ball and place it on a towel. Dust the top of dough with some more flour or cornmeal.
Cover the bowl with another towel, and allow to rest for 2 hours (this is the last rise, I promise!).
About 45 minutes before the dough is done rising, preheat your oven to 500 degrees. It will take about 15 minutes to heat up (unless you have a fancy oven that heats in seconds). Place the covered (and empty!) Dutch oven into the 500 degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove the heated pot from the oven and carefullydrop the dough in (hot!). Give the pot a shake to help even out the dough as much as you can. Cover & bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the cover & ooh and ahh at the beautiful bread that has formed in your pot. Bake uncovered for another 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the oven and — using a serving spoon to nudge it loose — remove the loaf from the pan.
Marvel at the sturdy crust! Transfer to a regular kitchen towel and wrap. Inhale the aromas! Allow bread to rest 10 minutes before slicing.
Enjoy with butter, jam, red pepper honey and cheese or — like my boyfriend — all of the above.