I am a huge planner. I plan my recipes each week. I plan what day I'll clean the bathroom, and what day I'll wear my new sweater. I plan vacations far in advance. And yet, when it comes to baking bread, I NEVER plan in time! I cannot tell you how many times I've had a free weekend afternoon when I've tried to bake some kind of yeast bread, and every single time I seem surprised that almost every recipe requires a 16 to 24 hour rest or rise period. Therefore, I rarely manage to bake fresh bread.
This weekend was the same scenario as usual, but when I decided to make bread at about 3:00 on Sunday afternoon, I decided I just had to find a way around the typical time constraints. I searched the web, and found the ideal recipe on the King Arthur Flour website. (Side note-- do you like to bake bread? They have a million and one great sounding recipes on their site, so go check it out!) I wanted a true loaf of Italian style bread (not a foccacia or another typical quick bread), and The Easiest Loaf of Bread You'll Ever Bake was exactly the recipe I'd been dreaming of! In less than three hours, I could have a lovely loaf of fresh baked bread. This recipe was really simple, with only ingredients you have around the kitchen, and produced a really great tasting loaf of bread. Was it the fanciest, most delicate and crusty bread ever? No. But it's a great place to start your bread baking adventures, and I've found it to be quite inspiring towards baking other types of bread in the near future. Now if only I could plan ahead enough to make that a reality...
The Easiest Loaf of Bread You’ll Ever Bake
1 T sugar
5 1/2-6 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 T (1 packet) yeast
1 T salt
2 cups warm water (not over 110°F)
Add sugar and yeast to warm water and let dissolve. Gradually add salt and flour to liquid and mix thoroughly until dough pulls from sides of bowl. Turn out onto floured surface to knead. (This may be a little messy, but don't give up!)
Fold far edge of dough back over on itself towards you. Press dough away with heels of hands. After each push, rotate dough 90°. Repeat process in rhythmic, rocking motion for about 3 minutes. (Lightly sprinkle flour on board to prevent sticking.) Let dough rest while you scrape out and grease mixing bowl. Knead dough again about 3 more minutes until bouncy and smooth.
LET IT RISE
Place dough in bowl and turn over once to grease the top. Cover with damp towel or plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk (1 to 2 hours).
Punch down dough with fist and briefly knead out gas bubbles. Cut in half and shape into 2 Italian or French-style loaves. Place on cookie sheet generously sprinkled with corn meal. Let dough rest 10 minutes.
Quick Method: Lightly slash the tops 3 or more times diagonally and brush with cold water. Place on rack in cold oven. Bake at 400°F for 35 to 40 minutes until crust is golden brown and sounds hollow to the touch.
Traditional Method: For lighter, crustier bread, let loaves rise 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 450°F for 15 minutes. Pour 2 to 3 cups of boiling water into roasting pan. Carefully place on oven bottom. Place bread on rack above pan and bake 20 minutes. Turn oven off and allow bread to remain for 5 more minutes. Remove, cool and devour!
** Notes: I did a half recipe, and it turned out great. I did the traditional method to bake the loaf. I also used my Kitchen Aid mixer to knead the dough.