This post could also be called “no-need bread.” As in: There is no need for me to rave about this recipe, since thousands already have.
But every so often I run across a recipe so good I become an evangelist for it. (Have I told you about the Smitten Kitchen spinach and chickpeas yet? Yes? Then what are you waiting for?) This is one. Make this bread. Make it now. Make it if you’ve never made bread before. Make it if you don’t like baking. Or bread. Or yeast. Make it if you live in the woods and only have an open fire and a wooden spoon and a cast-iron pot, because that’s all you need and it will turn out just fine.
Make it because cooking, for me, is about alchemy. Transfiguration. Combine perfectly ordinary things — a can of chickpeas, a handful of spices, a bag of spinach; short ribs and wine and carrots and broth — and marvel at how, before your eyes, they turn into something entirely new, infinitely better. I’m not a particularly gifted cook. I’m too impatient, too uncoordinated. I cook to recipe. After two years of practice, I can finally chop an onion with something approaching competence. Whenever a recipe turns out right — and if they’re good recipes and I’m careful, that’s more often than not — I’m amazed: I made that? From those? And it tastes like this?
This bread filled me with wonder. I cooked a lot of food last weekend, overflowing serving dishes of food, and the majority of it turned out well (though I did have my first main-dish failure). But after I pulled my loaf of bread out of the oven, burning my arm on the cast-iron pot in the process, and sliced into the crisp crust, I ran around the kitchen yelling joyfully to anyone who would listen: “It’s amazing! It tastes like bread!”
Make this bread. It’s amazing. It tastes like bread.
3 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour (I used bread)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast (important: yeast is really confusing. Mine said “rapid rise.” “Bread machine” yeast works too. Basically, you want yeast that you stir in with the dry ingredients and don’t have to activate with warm water. Don’t buy “active dry.”)
1 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
Start the night before. In a large bowl, mix the ingredients together with a wooden spoon until they form a shaggy, doughy ball. Cover with plastic wrap (not airtight) and let sit for 18 hours. The dough should puff up and get bubbly.
Wet your hands and put the dough on a floured surface. Fold the ends of the dough under until it forms a ball shape. Place on a floured towel. Cover and let sit in a warm place for 2 hours. After an hour and a half, start heating a covered pot in the oven at 450 degrees (I used an enameled cast iron Dutch oven, but anything that can stand up to the heat will work — put parchment paper inside if you’re worried that it will stick).
Tip the dough into the pot, cover, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for an additional 20 minutes.
Remove, cool, and devour.