Most days, like most people, my husband and I eat bread.
For several years now, I have been making that bread. Actually I have been making bread since I was old enough to stand -sourdough rounds with my mother, sandwich bread with my aunt, biscuits with my grandmother. In my teens and twenties, heavy, hearty breads of whole grains were my passion, with the occasional light, buttery and golden domed brioche for balance. When my children were little, they would help knead dough, shape rolls and cut out biscuits. During midwifery school, I took a job at a bakery in Basalt, Colorado. We specialized in wild yeast breads, fruit filled muffins and picnic loafs stuffed with savory delights.
For the last three years, one or two times a week, I have made the same bread, a one bowl, no kneed, one rise white bread. It is, quite literally, our daily bread. The recipe is flexible, reliable and delicious. In three years, we have yet not tired of it. Most importantly, the recipe is simple. Really simple. If you have never baked bread before, you can do this. Really.
Are you an experienced baker? Then dive right in -the recipe is below.
Are you a nervous newbie? Then read through this, gather our ingredients, take a deep breath, believe in your creative ability (I do!) and give it a try.
Do you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance? If so, please don’t make my gluten rich recipe. However, this gluten free sandwich bread recipe is for you. Actually, wheat and gluten eaters should also read this post -it is fabulous! The amazing Elizabeth Barbone is an actual chef and actual baker that actually teaches for a living (not a midwife that that dabbles in recipe sharing). In this one simple recipe, she does an amazing job of describing what is going on with the all ingredients used to make most any bread-flour, yeast, salt, sugar and warm (not hot) water. She shares information on the chemistry and physics involved in all bread making And she has good, simple tips on how to make bread recipes work for you. Read and learn (I sure did).
My Daily Bread recipe originated in Make Ahead Bread by Donna Curry. (Elizabeth Barbone said I had to buy this book so I did.) Curry’s Ciabatta recipe got my attention. Ciabatta, that wonderful long, wide loaf with the crisp crust and chewy center. Ciabatta the Italian Slipper bread that is perfect whether carefully sliced or torn into chunks. (It was while working at the bakery in Basalt that I first fell in love with Ciabatta).
After several times of using Ms Curry’s recipe, I started changing things up. Her Ciabatta recipe is made in a Ziplock type bag. I loved Curry’s recipe, but since I am not one to casually throw things away, I quickly tired of washing dough from my plastic bread-rising bag. So, I started using a bowl. The next change was I halved the sugar. And then I slightly increased the water. Next, I kept the oven temperature at 450° for the entire bake. Finally, I doubled the recipe. (With the double batch, I can bake one loaf today and the rest in a few days, simply leaving the remaining dough in the fridge. It’s half the work, yet all of the bread.)
Over the last few years, I have shared this bread with friends, loaves and loaves of it. Often I have been asked to share the recipe and I have quickly shared scribbled instructions. The recipe is easy. The process of making this bread is easy. And quick: it takes me less than five minutes to make the dough including washing up. It also takes me less than five minutes to shape the loaves and clean up.
Writing and reading about the baking process is very different than doing it. It has taken me hours to write this post -I could have made dozens of loaves of bread or hundreds of rolls with that same time. I suspect the same will be true for you. Reading this post will probably take you longer than making the bread. Frankly, this post probably makes the recipe seem much more complicated than it is. I am hoping that the lived experience is much simplier than my virtual teaching. Just give this bread recipe a try -especially if you are one of the dozens of folks that begged me for the recipe!
Here is my basic bread routine:
I realize we are running low on bread.
I pull out my food scale, glass mixing bowl, measuring cup for water, and a big spoon (or my favorite stirring implement, the Danish Dough Whisk).
- Ok, if the scale thing threw you off, don’t worry, this recipe works with cup-measuring and not weighing, but 1) I have a scale, 2) I live in Upstate NY where the winters are dry and the summers are humid, 3) I have a scale. Since the volume of flour changes with humidity (but the weight doesn’t), my results are more consistent if I weigh rather than measure the flour. If I didn’t have a scale (as you may not), I would just pull out my measuring cups and measure the flour like every other recipe.
I pull out my dry ingredients -flour, salt, sugar, dry yeast.
- What flour do I use? I use King Arthur Bread Flour. I have made this recipe with various flours (whole wheat, spelt, part buckwheat or corn)and they were all great but it works consistently well with good old King Arthur Bread flour. Just trust me and start with this. I STRONGLY suggest that you start with King Arthur Bread flour.
I weigh my flour, add the other ingredients to the bowl and turn on my kitchen water tap. Now I give the dry ingredients a couple stirs to incorporate the yeast, sugar and salt into all that flour.
- I let the water get warm (for good info on just how warm and why, read Elizabeth’s recipe). At my house, the water heater is set to about 120, and I get impatient waiting for it to get hot, so the water I use is warm but not hot (about 110).
I add warm water to the bowl and immediately and briskly stir it in.
- The concept here is to create a shaggy dough -we want a dough that is moist but not over worked. It is neither smooth or clumpy, but kinda rough, and well, shaggy. Just stir it together in a forthright manner. Not delicate stirring. Not firm kneading. Just straight forward stirring. It’s easy. If you are having to work hard, you might need a little more water. (A ‘little’ like maybe a 1/4 cup more water.)
I add olive oil to the bowl.
- Drizzle the oil down the sides of the bowl. Use your hands to gently lift the mass of dough so the oil slides under and coats the sides and bottom of the bowl. The idea is to keep the dough from sticking to the bowl and also add a tiny amount of oil to the dough.
Then I cover the bowl and let the dough rise.
- Currently, I use a silicone cover. Plastic wrap works. Beeswax coated cloth would work. If leaving out on the counter for a few hours, a dish towel works great.
- How long to rise? I have left it on counter for as little as one hour and as long as five hours. When doing a slow, cool rise, I have left the bowl of dough in the fridge as little as eight hours, and as long as five days (yes, five DAYS). Generally, I let the dough rise several hours on my kitchen counter, then take half of the dough out to shape and bake today. Then I recover the bowl and put it into the fridge so I can bake the rest of the dough in a few days.
When I decide that I am ready to bake, I turn my oven to 450°.
- This is how my oven is always ready for baking:
- I keep a bread stone on the middle rack all the time.
- I keep a broiler tray on the floor on my oven at all times.
- The stone helps with heat transfer and crisp crust. I leave it in the oven because I am lazy, cautious and frugal -taking it in and out regularly increases the change that I’ll burn myself or break the stone, so I just leave it in. Don’t have a bread or pizza stone? No big deal. Just skip it. Your bread will turn out fine.
- The broiler pan? Well, keep reading. You’ll understand soon.
While the oven is preheating, I prepare my pan, shape the loaf and let the dough rest.
- Pan Preparation
- Ciabatta -I put a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with cornmeal. I will then slide this paper with the dough on top, onto my bread stone. If you don’t have a stone or just don’t want to deal with that, simply sprinkle some cornmeal on a cookie tray and bake the ciabatta on that tray.
- Round loaf: Either I use the parchment paper and stone like above, or I sprinkle a little cornmeal in the bottom of a round cake or pie pan and bake in that. I use a pan that is bit bigger than my anticipated loaf.
- Loaf: For typical sandwich loaf, I use a good old bread pan and oil the sides and bottom of the pan generously.
- Shaping Notes
- This dough is wet and sticky and will spread out a bit. If you try to work this dough a lot, things will get messy. My suggestion is just go for the rough size and shape you want and let the dough itself decide how wide or smooth it is going to be. The idea is to have rustic loaf so don’t fuss over this dough. Get your basic shape and let the dough do it’s thing
- Ciabatta: I take out the dough and quickly/gently/deftly stretch out outwards and the fold the edges inwards, barely overlapping. Then I quickly/gently/deftly fIip the dough on to the parchment/pan, flipping it so the the seam is down
- Round: Put dough on your countertop and quickly/gently/deftly gather into a ball, incorporating the edges towards the middle. Then quickly/gently/deftly flip that ball over onto the parchment or pan
- Loaf: Basically the same as the ciabatta but l look at the bread pan when folding the edges inwards so I make a loaf that isn’t too long.
- Rolls: I shape these same way as the round loaf, just smaller. (Do you remember making balls with playdough?) If you want firm, crisp-crusted rolls, place on parchment or a cookie sheet. If you want soft, fluffy rolls, place side by side, barely touching in a well greased round pan.
- Finishing touch
- I spray a little oil on the tops of loaves or rolls, and sprinkle with seeds and/or sea salt. Don’t have an oil sprayer? Brush it on, or skip this step. Don’t have seeds or sea salt -skip it. Not a biggie.
Just before putting into the 450° oven (please want until the oven is actually HOT), I quickly/gently/deftly slice gashes into each loaf. This helps the steam escape during baking (and it is fun!).
Then I bake the bread
- But, before I open the oven (and let out that precious heat), I make sure the loaves are ready. And I get a bottle (or cup) filled with water. This water is going to get poured into the broiler pan in the bottom of the oven and make steam. You can totally skip this part, but it does help with crust development. You just have to be fast. And deft.
- The sequence goes like this:
- Open oven
- Slide in bread
- Pour water into broiler pan on the floor of oven
- SHUT the oven door
- Set timer for 20 minutes
- When is it ready? In about a half an hour, maybe more, maybe less. I start peeking at the 20 minute mark. I’m looking for golden brown crust and for those air venting gashes to be open and a bit curled at the edges. Also, it should smell divine!
Now we eat the bread.
- Sometimes, we eat it hot, right out of the oven, ripping chunks from the loaf, and dipping them into fragment olive oil or savory stew. Sometimes, we wait (like you are supposed to) until the loaf is cool and the crumb is stable, then tear off pieces or cut slices. The next day and for days after, we cut slices and put in the toaster, or (more commonly) just grill in a pan with a touch of oil. We make toast, sandwiches, croutons, bread puddings, stratas, bread crumbs, and occasionally we feed a stale end piece to the birds.
Then, I realize we are running low on bread. And it all begins again.
Our Daily Bread
This recipe makes one very large loaf, two smaller loaves, or a whole lot of rolls
1 pound, 8 and 3/4 ounces (aka 5 1/4 cups) King Arthur Bread flour
2 Teaspoons dry, active yeast
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Teaspoon salt
2 and 3/4 cup warm water
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl
Add warm water to the dry ingredients and stir briskly to create a shaggy dough
Coat the inside of the bowl with oil
Cover the bowl and let it rise
Shape, top and gash as desired
Bake at 450° for about 30 minutes for loaves, about 20 for rolls
(check at 20 and 15 minutes respectively)
Here are some of my favorite books on bread. There are recipe books from Curry and Barbone, novels by Parrish and Sloan, and ponderings on the factual history and hopeful future of grains by Halloran. (Not to be missed, Parrish’s book Stones for bread has amazing wild yeast recipes, and Halloran’s book includes her infamous pancake recipe.)
Easy Gluten Free Baking by Elizabeth Barbone
Make Ahead Bread by Donna Curry
New Bread Basket by Amy Halloran
Stones for Bread by Christa Parrish
Sourdough by Robin Sloan