Good Bread

Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of all feasts.
— James Beard

When I was in kindergarten, Wednesdays were bread day. My class would squeeze around the long, 5-year-old-sized table, all eager to receive the small handful of dough that would be ours to knead. I can remember moving the dough around with my fingers, thinking ahead to snack time. I would hope that the salty butter would not be cold and hard from its rest in the fridge, but rather that it would be soft and warm from the sunny counter, sliding easily over each slice. I would wish that our teachers might surprise us with a little bit of honey as an extra treat. There were no "no thank-yous" at snack time on bread day. We all looked forward to Wednesdays, when the school was warm from our ovens and everything smelled like yeast and flour. 

Kindergarten bread was truly the greatest of all feasts. And today, twenty-one years later, I'm still not over it. For me, bread is a foundation. It's the bones of my baking - my jumping off point for exploring new foods and new techniques - and a comfort food with no season. I also love that the process of baking bread is deceptively simple. While it can be so satisfying to follow complicated, multi-day recipes with hours of hands-on time, some of the very best loaves can actually be made with less than fifteen minutes of work. Shhhhhhh! Don't let the secret out! Or maybe, tell everyone you know. It's too good not to be shared!

This recipe creates a peasant-style loaf with a thick crust and a nice hole-y crumb. We eat it with everything - fresh tomatoes, raspberry jam, eggs, olive oil, soup, baba ganoush, and of course, butter. 

2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 scant tablespoon salt
1 3/4 cups warm water

Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Pour in water and mix to combine. The dough will be pretty wet and shaggy, but don't worry! That's just the way we need it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a tea towel and let sit at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours.

After the first rest, gently move the dough from the bowl to a floured baking sheet. Shape into a ball and let sit, covered with plastic wrap, for another hour. About 30 minutes into the second rest, place a dutch oven** in the middle rack of the oven and heat to 525 degrees.

When the oven is hot, re-shape the dough into a ball and slash with a sharp knife. Carefully, carefully, carefully, place the dough in the hot dutch oven, cover with the lid, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid from the dutch oven and bake for another 20 minutes or so, until the loaf is darkly browned and sounds hollow when tapped.

**This recipe can easily be made without a dutch oven. If you have a baking stone, just stick that in the oven and preheat it to 525 degrees, slashing and baking as directed above. If you don't have either of these tools, use a baking sheet: Preheat the empty oven to 525 degrees, slash the dough, and then bake on a cookie sheet. The finished product won't be as crusty, but it will still be darn good.