Seasonal Recipe of the Week
A few weeks ago Monica, my dear pal, showed up for Sunday dinner with the most delicious and beautiful crusted round loaf of bread still warm from the oven. Now that's a good friend! She said it was the easiest loaf she ever made and sent me the link over at Ben Starr's blog. Next weekend I tried it, and like her, I was skeptical, how could something so easy taste so good? Well campers, it works every time at every altitude, and you must give it a shot. The only thing is you need to start it the day before — so plan accordingly! Here's the recipe. Once you get the hang of it you can start experimenting but the basic formula should be stuck to.
3 1/2 cups (or 17 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt - not iodized, Ben says that will kill the yeast
1/4 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) filtered or bottled water - tap water has chlorine which is also a yeast-killer
In a medium bowl, combine yeast, flour, and salt and mix with your hands. Ben says it helps the bacteria activate — who knew? Then add the water (temperature is not an issue) and mix with a wooden spoon till a raggy dough forms. Done. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter in your kitchen for 12 to 24 hours. Longer is better, so I went 24 hours.
The next day, scoop the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. It should be quite soft. Knead it 3 to 4 times and form into a ball. Place a clean kitchen towel in a bowl that is about the same size as your dutch oven and sprinkle with some flour or semolina and place dough in bowl. Sprinkle some more flour or semolina on top (you want to make sure it doesn't stick to the towel). Cover with plastic and let sit 2 to 3 hours, until double in size.
20 minutes before you are ready to bake, put the empty Dutch oven with its lid in the oven, then preheat your oven to 450. Now this is the only slightly tricky part (but not really). Carefully take the Dutch oven out of the oven and take off the lid. Then flour your right hand and gently dump the dough into your hand so the top is in your palm and then flip it into the Dutch oven so it is right side up. Careful — the Dutch oven will be HOT! Using a razor blade or sharp knife cut a series of lines in the top. Put the lid back on, put it back into the oven, and bake for 30 minutes. Then take the lid off and bake it for 15 minutes more. That's it!
If you want to play around with the recipe, you can start adding stuff like sesame, poppy, rye, or fennel seeds or herbage like basil or rosemary. Then I was thinking what about substituting in 1/2 whole wheat flour? Or upping the nutrition with millet, chia, or hemp seeds? Also, chopped Kalamata olives or some nuts would not be bad. As you can see, the possibilities are endless so have fun with it and let me know how yours turns out!