Bob's Disgustingly Foolproof Bread
Unless you do something terribly wrong, this recipe is guaranteed to produce the best bread you've ever eaten.
The bread rises overnight in a covered container and is baked in a 4 1/2 to 6 quart Dutch oven or covered casserole dish -- a Le Creuset 4-1/2 Quart #24 is perfect. If you use a cheaper Dutch oven, be sure that it will take the heat and has a tight-fitting lid. Many are rated for only 400 degrees Fahrenheit and the plastic knobs on the lid will crack or melt under higher heat.
I made the bread with King Arthur European-style Artisan flour but it's hard to find, expensive to have shipped, comes in tiny packages and, the last time I checked, King Arthur refused to let grocery stores special order it (a monumental marketing error, in my opinion, since it's their best flour). I've since changed to Bob's Red Mill Unbleached White flour (no relation). I think it produces slightly better bread, It's relatively inexpensive to order, and I can get it locally.
A word of warning: Using this recipe will put dark marks on your baking dish that are very difficult to get out. It never occurred to me that anyone would care and I've always felt that some build-up on your baking dish improves the bread, but my niece is still blaming me for "ruining" her Le Creuset dish.
- 3 cups bread flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon Quick-rise yeast
- 1 1/2 cups water
- Sprinkle of corn meal and flour
- Put the flour, salt and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Mix them up well. I've found that you get better bread if the bowl is more like a cylinder than a cone. If the bottom of the bowl is narrow (like those used in most stand mixers), the weight of the dough above will keep you from getting the best rise. Good luck finding a bowl with a wide bottom. Mine is an old Betty Crocker white porcelain bowl and they don't seem to make them like that any more. Metal bowls also seem to degrade the taste somewhat.
- Pour in the water and mix well with a sturdy wooden spoon. The first two steps will take you under ten minutes. Mix until it seems like the water is evenly distributed through the dough. Don't go crazy here, but try to make sure there are no clumps of dry flour left when you're done. The dough will be really stiff at first. Keep stirring until it gets kind of soupy and sticks to the sides and bottom of the bowl, then keep stirring until it looks a little satiny and firms up a little and you can use the spoon to make something that approximates a wet ball of dough. There's no need to trickle the water in while stirring -- just dump it in. I usually use warm water and I think it helps, but make sure it's not too hot to hold your hand in comfortably or you might kill the yeast. If you are an experienced bread maker, the dough will seem fairly wet. This is normal with this recipe.
- Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Leave a little sag in the center of the wrap so the expanding bread won't push it off. Put the bowl aside, but don't put it near a heat source. You want a long slow rise. I put it in the microwave.
- Let the dough rise about 16 hours. If you miss by an hour or two (or even more), it will still be good, but I find 16 works the best.
- Dump the dough out onto a floured work surface. The dough will be very sticky so you might want to put oil or flour on your hands. It helps to use a non-stick work surface such as marble, wax paper, Roul'pat Pastry Mat, parchment paper, pastry cloth, or wax paper.
- Fold the dough in half twice, flatten it out well, and let it rest for 15 minutes.
- Form the dough into a ball by pushing the sides under while rotating the ball. Bury the sides underneath so that the visible surface is smooth. Dust the top with flour.
- Transfer the ball to a non-stick surface dusted well with flour and corn meal and cover it with the pastry cloth. The best method is to use a large pastry cloth, put the dough on one half and just fold the other half over on the dough. Press down the sides of the cloth to help keep the air out. Lay the plastic wrap you used to cover the bowl over the pastry cloth to help keep the dough from drying out.
- Let the covered dough rise for one-and-a-half to two hours. The warmer the room, the less time it needs. When you poke the dough with two fingers and the dents don't bounce back, it's done rising.
- While the dough is rising, pre-heat the oven with the baking pan inside to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (230 degrees Celsius). Don't forget to put the baking pan in the oven!
- When the dough is ready, PUT ON GOOD OVEN MITTS WITH NO HOLES IN THEM, slide out the oven rack, take the cover off the container and dump the dough in upside down. The cracks on the bottom of the dough ball will now be on top. It looks funky but, trust me, when it's done, it will look like you planned it. If the dough is uneven in the pan (and it usually will be) shake the pan quickly to level it. Put the cover on, slide it back in, and close the oven door. Try to do this quickly so the oven won't lose too much heat.
- Bake covered for 30 minutes. Don't peek.
- Take the cover off and bake for another 15 to 25 minutes. The bread should be a nice golden brown. When you take it out, it should sound hollow when you thump the bottom. If it doesn't, cook it a little longer the next time.
- Dump the bread out onto a cooling rack and let it cool for about an hour.
The bread is best when it's fresh but it freezes surprisingly well if you wrap it tightly in aluminum foil and heat it up a little before serving.
Here is a bread calculator that will help you estimate when to mix the bread: Bread Calculator.
Here's my typical schedule:
- 10:00 pm - Mix the dough.
- 2:00 pm (next day) - Dump it out, fold it and let rest 15 minutes.
- 2:30 pm - Set to rise on the pastry cloth.
- 3:00 pm - Preheat oven to 450F with pan inside.
- 4:30-5:00 pm - Pop it in the pan.
- 30 minutes later - take the lid off.
- 15 minutes later - Remove to cooling rack.
- 1 hour later - Eat and listen to extravagant compliments.
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— Bob Ray