Photo by quinn.anya

Susanna Donato joined the artisan bread revolution for the way to really make the easiest and best bread.

Yes, it’s simple. You just need the right recipe. This one comes from the Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day cookbook, and this is how I do it.

Mixing day:

1. Get a container that can hold several quarts of dough. My container’s square dimensions mean it takes up little space in the fridge.

Photo and Feature Photo by author

Add ingredients as follows:

  • 3 cups of warm water (about 750 ml)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of yeast (about 37 ml)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt (about 37 ml)
  • 6 1/2 cups of flour (about 780 g).

The recipe calls for all-purpose flour. I usually bake bread with bread flour, which is a higher-protein flour that typically makes longer strands of gluten, and I like a little bit of whole-grain tooth. For this recipe, I’ve generally been using 1 cup of whole wheat flour (ours is stone-ground and quite rough), 1 1/2 cups of bread flour, and 4 cups of all-purpose flour. Experiment with mixtures you like.

2. Stir up the ingredients until everything is damp. If you live in a dry climate and your flour seems exceptionally dry, add a little bit more water (a couple of tablespoons). Don’t worry about being super thorough — overmixing isn’t necessary. This should take about 2 minutes.

3. Leave it on the counter for a couple of hours if you want to bake immediately. If not, put it in the refrigerator. Overnight is good. A full day is great. Up to a week or two should be OK. This is what it will look like after it’s been chilling and rising:

Note: For those with small refrigerators, you can divide the recipe in half, let the dough rise on the counter, and bake it immediately so you don’t give up valuable refrigerator space to the dough. Or collaborate with neighbors and share a big batch!

Baking day:

1. Get the dough out of the fridge. You’ll want a nice, peaceful, nonstick surface for your dough to rise on. I like to use a Silpat mat — it is nonstick, nontoxic, reusable, heat safe, and flexible for easy dough-dumping. (I got mine 10 years ago at New York Cake & Pastry, which is stamped on the mat, making them a useful souvenir of my time cooking in NYC.) If you don’t have a Silpat, you can use the counter, a towel or a small plate or cutting board.

2. Dust your rising surface with a good coat of flour. Any kind will do.

3. Pull off a hunk of dough. Some guidelines: A piece the size of a grapefruit is about a pound (450 g). A piece the size of a cantaloupe is about 1 1/2 lbs (675 g). I use a piece probably closer to 2 pounds (900 g) — the size of a really big cantaloupe, or maybe a somewhat petite honeydew. You can use a knife, too, but mine usually tears easily and doesn’t require cutting.

Set the dough on the floured surface. Flour your hands. Shape the wad of dough into a round loaf just like this:

4. Cover the dough with a towel and let it nap for a while. How long it rises will depend on how warm your kitchen is. An hour is sufficient if it’s warm (75-80F/25C and up). My kitchen is usually freezing (60-62F/16C), so I leave it out 2 to 3 hours.

5. About 25 minutes before you want to start baking the bread, put your covered heatproof pan in the oven and turn the oven on to very hot (450F/232C). (My pan is a Williams-Sonoma covered cast-iron Dutch oven skillet that my co-worker Jill, God bless her, gave me in 1992.) I like to put the pan in the oven when I start the bread rising, long before I turn the oven on; otherwise, I am prone to forget it and just heat the oven sans pan.

6. When the oven is preheated, uncover your dough. It doesn’t look too much different — just a little bit taller, softer and more refreshed after its rising “nap.”

7. I bend the edges of the Silpat around the dough to shake as much flour close to the dough as I can to minimize the mess. Take the pan out of the oven (careful! It’s SO hot) and remove the lid.

Photo by ansik

Carefully dump the dough into the pan. What was the bottom will be on top, with some rough edges showing. That’s OK! It will all work out in the end.

8. Bake for about 30 minutes. Then open the oven, take off the lid, and let the bread keep on baking for about 20 minutes longer. (Those rough edges have made a gorgeous crown on the bread.) Check it after that initial 30 minutes — if your oven is hotter, the bread might not need as much time. It will be done when it is fairly brown on top, quite brown (but not black) on the bottom, and sounds hollow when tapped.

9. It comes out of the oven brown and amazing!

10. Gently (and carefully! — it’s hot) tip the bread out of the pan and let the bread cool completely on a rack.

11. Slice it and enjoy the texture. It should be moist, chewy and crusty — perfect for toast, sandwiches or just scarfing down with butter.

Please note that it has probably taken you almost as long to read this post as to make the bread!

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