New England weather is crazy. Last week started with hurricane-force winds, about a foot of snow, and wind-chills around zero degrees or less. The week ended with temps in the 50s, fog, and rain. Never a dull (weather) moment in Southern New England.
So while the snow melts away on January 2nd and I’m trapped inside, fearing tracking an unexpected mud season into the house, what else is there to do to bring sunshine into my life but bake? Bread is on the agenda today. I started with an Oatmeal loaf in my Sunbeam bread machine–something for sandwiches since it’s been a week since I’ve gone grocery shopping and we’ve run out. Oops! Once I got that going, however, I started thinking about that easy artisan bread I haven’t made in ages.
By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about Five-Minute Artisan Bread. Everybody has. Like so many fads before it, it burst onto the scene to the delight of many, was baked by all, and disappeared into the sunset, forgotten just as quickly as it was discovered. You don’t hear much about it these days, but you can’t beat the simplicity. It pays off big time in results that you would expect from so much more manpower and all you have to do is wait for nature to take its course.
This recipe originated in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day (which I don’t have yet, but I ordered it last week and it’s on the way!). I discovered it on A Splendid Table. All you need are flour, salt, yeast, and water, a couple minutes to mix them together in a plastic bin, and a bit of patience. I highly recommend refrigerating the dough for a couple hours before baking (and the longer you leave it in the fridge after the initial counter-top rise, the better the flavor it develops). It’s a great introduction into the world of artisan bread for the casual home chef. Just be careful with your measuring (remember to scoop the flour into the measuring cup and scrape the excess off) and you’ll be all set.
Five-Minute Artisan Bread
adapted from A Splendid Table
1 1/2 Tbsp sea salt
1 1/2 Tbsp granulated yeast
3 cups lukewarm (100 degrees Fahrenheit) water
6 1/2 cups unbleached flour (I substituted 2 cups with white whole wheat flour), plus extra for dusting
In a large plastic tub, mix the sea salt, granulated yeast, and warm water. With a wooden spoon, mix in the flour until there are no dry spots, but do not knead. Dough should be wet and loose, conforming to the shape of the tub. Cover loosely and let it sit at room temperature for 2-5 hours, until it flattens on top or collapses.
At this point, you should refrigerate the dough. If you plan on baking the same day, it should sit in the fridge for at least 3 hours (and up to 2 weeks)–but the longer you leave it in the fridge, the better the flavor and texture.
When ready to bake, place a metal broiler pan on the bottom rack of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have a pizza stone that allows it, preheat the stone for at least 20 minutes (in which case, you’ll be using a cornmeal-sprinkled pizza peel to transfer the dough onto the stone later). If you have Pampered Chef stoneware, you’re not supposed to preheat it. That’s what I have and I never preheat it, even making this recipe. In that case, just sprinkle some cornmeal on it and set it aside
Flour your hands and cut off a piece of dough, about 1 lb. For 30-60 seconds, work the dough ball in your hands, stretching it and turning a quarter turn each time, making a rounded top and a bunched up belly button of a bottom. Reflour hands as required but don’t expect to work it into the dough as it’s only to prevent sticking at this point.
Place the dough ball onto the prepared pizza peel or PC baking stone, belly button side down, dusting the top with flour. Let it rest somewhere warm for 40 minutes. Repeat with the rest of the dough, or return it to the fridge to use later in the 2 weeks. You can also freeze the dough balls in 1 lb portions–just thaw in the fridge overnight the day before you plan on using them.
Take a sharp knife (I like my tomato knife for this) and cut 3 slashes across the top of the dough about 1/2 inch deep, parallel or cross-hatched. Slide dough onto preheated stone (or put the PC stone with dough on it into the oven). Pour 1 cup of warm water into the broiler pan and shut the door quickly. Bake until well-browned and firm, about 30 minutes. You can test doneness by thumping the bottom of the loaf–if it sounds hollow, it’s done. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.