So it's been awhile since I shared my bread recipe, and what with the coronavirus pandemic and the social distancing going on, I thought it would be an appropriate time to share my recipe, as I know it gives me a great deal of peace of mind to be able to at least bake fresh bread for my family.
I use a very simple, hands-off and forgiving recipe that involves a cast iron casserole pot like a Le Crueset or Dutch oven with a lid. In a pinch I've used a heavy pot with a cast iron frying pan for a lid. Also, a pizza stone helps though is not essential. I use sourdough, which I will address at the end, but you can also use dry yeast quite easily.
Here is the basic recipe:
4 cups flour (any type, but bread flour for much of it will give you more gluten strands and a more open, lacy structure)
3 large (three fingered) pinches of salt (I prefer kosher, but whatever)
1 large pinch of dry yeast if going that route
Once that is mixed, stir in 2 cups warm water. If using sourdough, mix in a pint of starter. You want a shaggy, wet dough that holds its shape but is definitely wet. Don't agonize. Stir only until all the dough is hydrated. Cover bowl with a plate and let rise 8-30 hrs. That's right, it's not a typo. You will get different results but you will get a perfectly fine loaf of bread.
I generally shoot for mixing up a dough in the afternoon, baking the next morning. If going more than 18 hours or so (which I would only do if I couldn't bake earlier), I might gently fold the dough halfway through, right in the bow, and let it rise again.
Half an hour before you want to bake, preheat your oven, a pizza stone if you got one and your pot with lid to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to replace the knob on your pot with a bolt and wingnut if the knob is plastic, because this temperature will melt it.
Lay out a dishtowel, sprinkle it liberally with flour, and then using your fingers, gently scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the towel. Fold the sides of the dough in to the center, rotate 90 degrees and do it again. Wrap the towel around the dough and let rise until the oven has heated for thirty minutes.
Pull the pot out of the oven and remove the lid. Place the dough, still wrapped in the towel, into the pot, then gently lift two of the corners of the towel, unrolling the dough until it lands in the pot. Score the top of the loaf with a razor if desired. Replace lid and bake with lid on for thirty minutes. Remove lid and bake for fifteen more minutes. Remove bread from pot and prop up to cool.
There are a number of things you can do to streamline the process further. I fill the dough bowl with hot water while I deal with the dough, after which it is easy to clean. I walk outside to shake out the floured tea towel before I put it in the laundry. I don't bother washing the baking pot, ever. I store the bread, cut side down on the board, with no bag on it at all. It should stay delightful to eat for several days this way.
I have gone in and out of using sourdough starters for years, but recently have found the most success with my latest iteration. I created the starter by mixing flour and water and tossing some grapes that grew behind my house last fall into the batter. The bloom on grapes, apples and other fruit that hasn't been washed is the yeast you want to capture, but this yeast also exists all around us, so you don't strictly need this. I stirred this mixture each day and added more flour and water every other day for a week, at which point bubbles started to form, indicating that the yeast had taken hold.
I feed my starter whenever I make a bread dough, simply by mixing fresh flour and water into the same pint jar that I took the starter out of. The residue left in the jar does a great job of colonizing it. I calibrate how often I feed it and how much to how often I need to bake bread. Right now, I am baking a loaf a day with eight people sheltering in our house, so I basically leave a couple of tablespoons of starter in the jar, and mix it up full again with flour and water, and by the next day it is ready to go again. At other times I have fed it very sparingly so that the jar is full basically when I am ready to bake another loaf. Sometimes the starter can go flat and separate out and smell like alcohol, and all you need to do is feed it again to get it going. You can stick it in the fridge for months at a time if you need to.
Alternately, you can spread some out on a try and let it dry out completely and then freeze it. If you are reading this because you asked for some of the starter flakes I am giving away, then this is what you are getting. I've never done it, but my understanding is that if you soften the flakes in a bit of warm water, then mix in some flour and water, the yeast will recolonize that and you'll be off and running.
Good luck! Have fun! And feel free to ask me any questions.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.