**April 2010 Update: I now make this bread with less yeast and salt and more whole wheat flour with the same great results! I try to let it set three or four days in the fridge before using to increase the “sourdough” factor. Find specific changes in the recipe at the end.**
I make this artisan bread almost weekly – it’s pretty addictive and the recipe I found, modified somewhat, is super easy and produces a bread at home that is very similar to what you might find in a bakery.
It could change the way you think about making bread.
From a frugal standpoint, when unbleached flour is .30 cents per pound and whole wheat is .50 cents per pound, the total cost for 2 – 4 loaves (depending on how big you make your loaves) is .65 cents! I’ve added about .10 for the yeast and salt bought in bulk.
I should take this moment to mention ALWAYS buy your yeast in bulk. Any store that has bins will usually have yeast. It’s so much cheaper than the little packets. And you’re going to be making a lot of bread – believe me!
These are the ingredients – notice how few. Just flour, water, yeast and salt. Simple. I love it!
Put the yeast and salt in a bowl. You can do this by hand, but I like to put it in the mixer because, well, it’s easier. Add lukewarm water- I just use warm water from the tap. You can mix it or not- it’s up to you!
Add all the flour. The original recipe used all unbleached, I’ve tried half whole wheat, but the texture wasn’t the same, so I’ve settled on 2 cups whole wheat and 4- 1/2 cups unbleached. If I have it, I will use Rye flour for the last 1/2 cup.
I like to mix it until it starts to clean the sides of the bowl. The original recipe emphasizes not kneading the dough, just mix it together. While I don’t knead, per se, getting it to the stage in this picture is probably more than the original recipe meant. I like the texture of the bread with just a touch more beating (maybe only 30 seconds to 1 minute is all).
Then just transfer it to a large bowl (or if you mixed by hand, just leave it in the same bowl), and cover it with plastic wrap, but not airtight. Leave to sit on the counter 1-1/2 to 2 hours until it looks like this:
Notice the time written on the plastic – that’s my little trick to remind me when the time’s up. Now just stick it in the refrigerator! You can leave it there for up to 14 days, according to the original recipe. However it becomes more sour, like a sourdough, as it ages and I made a loaf at day 9 once and it was too sour for me. So, I always use it within a week. If I don’t need bread, I make it anyway and freeze it. But that’s just me.
Another thing I do differently (besides changing up the flours and decreasing the salt) is to cook the bread in a hot enamel dutch oven with the lid on during the first 15 minutes. Cook’s Illustrated did an article on cooking bread in one, saying when the steam escapes in the first minutes, it hits the sides and creates it’s own steam. Basically, as close to a bakery oven as we can get at home. Works for me!
I purchased this oven at Wal Mart for $39.99 – the most I’ve ever spent on a single piece of cookware. It does make a wonderful crust without me worrying about spraying water or putting water in the oven, so it’s been worth it to me.
But if you don’t have a dutch oven, you can still bake this bread. The original recipe has you use a baking stone with a pan of water in the oven – the steam from the water broke my stone when I did this, but if the water was on the top rack, it would work. I’ve also used a regular cookie sheet and sprayed some water on the loaf before going in the oven. Try different methods and see which you like best.
About 1-1/2 hours before you want to serve the bread, take the bowl out of the refrigerator, pull the plastic off (the dough will be sticky) and dust the top with flour. Put the enamel dutch oven, with the lid on, in the oven and turn it on to 450 degrees.
Scrape the dough off the sides of the bowl and pull the amount you need off, cutting with a serrated knife. This amount of dough makes four small loaves or two large (or three medium, I suppose!). My family needs the larger size, so I always just cut it in half.
Round it in your floured hands until it is a somewhat smooth ball, not handling it too much so you don’t loose the air in the dough that gives the bread it’s great texture.
Place the dough ball on a cookie sheet lined with a piece of parchment paper and dust the top with flour. The paper will be used in the dutch oven, the cookie sheet is just for moving the dough over to the oven (if not using the dutch oven, transfer parchment to baking stone, or just use the cookie sheet to bake). The parchment can be used 3 to 4 times before it starts falling apart and it makes it really easy to transfer the dough to the hot dutch oven. Set the timer for 30 minutes while the dough rests on the counter.
When the thirty minutes is up, take a sharp, serrated knife and slash the top in any pattern you choose, just make sure to slash a good 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch deep. I use to barely cut into the top and then the dough would explode out the bottom making the dough look weird and misshapen.
Remove the lid of the hot dutch oven and using two opposite corners of the parchment, transfer the dough to the pot. Replace the lid, close the oven, and set the timer for 15 minutes for the smaller loaves, 17 minutes for the larger loaf.
After the timer goes off, remove the lid and set the timer for the same amount of time as the first (if using a stone or cookie sheet, just set the timer for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan if you need to in your oven for even browning). Take the loaf out when it is nicely browned – don’t be afraid to put it back in the oven until it looks browned. Sometimes I’ve found it may need up to another 5 minutes.
Remove immediately to a wire rack – I just dump the loaf from the dutch oven onto the rack (’cause the pot is HOT and heavy!), then turn it over. You’ll want to wait at least a half hour before cutting it, preferably an hour, otherwise it will gum up on the knife. Confession: many times I’m running late (surprise) and find I’m taking it out of the oven 10 minutes before we need to eat. So here’s a trick I learned cooking at a summer camp: use an electric carving knife! It slices quickly enough that it doesn’t gum up quite as much as it normally would when the bread’s still quite hot.
Do yourself a favor and make this bread as soon as you can – and prepare for the ooh’s and aah’s!
Easy Artisan Bread Baked In An Enamel Dutch Oven
- 3 cups warm water
- 1-1/2 TB instant yeast (only a scant TB now )
- 1 TB salt (only 2-1/2 tsp.)
- 2 cups whole wheat flour (3-1/2 c. w.w. flour – whole wheat white flour is best)
- 4-1/2 cups unbleached flour (only 3 c. unbleached flour)
- Put the yeast and salt in a bowl and add the water.
- Add all the flour and mix well.
- Put in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap (not airtight). Let set at room temperature for about 1-1/2 hours.
- Put in the refrigerator for up to 14 days (I prefer only about 1 week).
- When ready to bake, place an enameled dutch oven, with lid, in a 450 degree oven. Dust the dough with flour, grab a quarter, third, or half (depending on the size loaf you want) and cut off piece with a serrated knife. Using well-floured hands, shape gently into a ball and place on a piece of parchment paper resting on a cookie sheet. Dust the top with more flour.
- Let sit on the counter 30 minutes. Then slash the top of the loaf with a serrated knife.
- Transfer the loaf to the hot dutch oven using the edges of the parchment, replace the lid, and cook for 15 to 17 minutes.
- Remove lid and continue to cook for another 15 to 17 minutes, or until loaf is a golden brown.
- Remove to a cooling rack for 30 to 60 minutes before cutting.