The Midwest has it's own culinary treasures, unfortunately bread doesn't seem to be one of them. My gift to my readers today is this recipe for a simple and fantastic loaf of bread. That a bowl of flour mixed with water and a sprinkle of yeast can result in something this wonderful seems to me to be simply magical.
This requires no special equipment or breadmaking machinery. The recipe is creative in its replacement of the labor intensive kneading process with time.
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising.
Here's what you'll need:
- 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
- ¼ teaspoon instant yeast
- 1¼ teaspoons salt
- Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.
1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.
Remember that, when the loaf is hot out of the oven, don't cover it with anything as it cools. You'll end up with a wonderfully chewy French or Italian-like bread with a crunchy crust. A slice or two with a spot of butter and a bowl of a hearty soup or stew is the perfect lunch in Fall and Winter.