Real bakers will tell you that you have to weigh everything, and that volume measurement is insufficient. They know what they speak of, but I’m using volume measurements anyway. If you are lucky enough to have a kitchen scale, I have the weights noted as well. Bread is forgiving and it loves you. All will be well.
Some of the nutritional benefits of this bread: it has no sugar, added fats, or preservatives. Also, by having a nice long rising time, it is a fermented bread, which means that lots of people who are gluten sensitive can eat it.
A large bowl — think “the popcorn bowl,” big enough to hold a whole bag of microwave popcorn. Mine is about 4 quarts, and I wouldn’t go much smaller.
A whisk. Any kind will do. I use a straight ball whisk, but that’s because I already have it. You could use a fork and it will be fine.
A wooden spoon, any variety.
A cast iron pot/pan with a lid, not overly large. This is where things get specific and tricky. I use a loaf nest, and have great results. It’s pricey, and heavy as well. I hear that you can use a basic cast iron Dutch oven of any sort, but I’ve not been able to get decent results in the oven (I got great results when using this method in the wild, on actual coals and with a fire pit, but not the oven.) Le Cruset and other name brands have similar enameled cast iron bread cloches, and they are (somehow) even more expensive. If you find that there’s a cheaper, less equipment-specific solution, please let me know.
A silicone or parchment paper liner to help make lifting the finished loaf easier.
A lid large enough to cover the bowl, or plastic wrap
1/4 teaspoon yeast (.5 g)— really it’s just enough grains to get it going.
1.5 teaspoons salt ( 8-10 g) — I use about 10g, and I like Himalayan (pink) mineral salt, as it seems to give the dough a deeper flavor character. I have thoughts on many different kind of salt (grey, black, Celtic, etc), but go with what you have. Try to avoid iodized salt, as it can change the whole reactivity that we’re after.
1.75 cups (14 ounces) of water (400g) —if you have access to filtered water, this is ideal. If not, you can let the water sit on the counter for a day or so to let the chlorine evaporate.
4 c. Flour (500 g) — you’re going to want to avoid most “all purpose” flours because they don’t have enough protein to make the reaction happen. For store bought, I like King Arthur Unbleached all purpose. You’ll know it’s the right one because it has a little “11%” badge on it, indicating that it has 11% protein. This is the right one.
Mix the yeast, salt and water together in a large bowl with a whisk until blended. This might take a couple applications. The yeast can be reluctant to dissolve, but once it does the liquid will become cloudy and the salt will get in on the action too.
Add about half the flour and blend with the whisk until everything is damp. There will probably be bubbles happening in the flour as it hits the yeast. This is all wonderful.
Add the remaining flour and mix with the wooden spoon (or you can use the whisk still if you prefer — I find it gets a little clumpy on the whisk as it starts to become dough). Don’t drive yourself crazy here — this is just to make sure all the flour is incorporated into the moisture. It will be a soft dough, a little stiffer than a batter.
Once everything is combined, cover the bowl with a large lid or plastic wrap. The goal is to keep it warm and prevent it from drying out.
The whole process up to this point should only take a few minutes. If you’re having misgivings, call me and we’ll video chat while you do these steps, and I can reassure you that all is great.
Place it in a nice cozy spot for 12-18 hours. It should double in volume and have a tangy aroma.
Preheat the oven to 450F (230 C). Place the bread pan and its lid (the cloche) inside (without the silicone liner, if you’re using one) to warm for 45 minutes.
The pan will be scary hot at this point. Take the cloche out of the oven and insert the silicone liner in the lower portion. Scrape the dough into the lower half of the cloche — I use the wooden spoon to sort of coax the dough out, and it usually rolls right into the pan.
Put the lid on the cloche and transfer the pan back into the hot oven.
Bake for 45-60 minutes. I usually end up setting the timer for 50 minutes.
Take the lid off and let it bake another 10 minutes if you like a crunchy crust (which I do). It also makes the whole thing less weighty when removing it from the oven.
Remove the cloche from the oven and lift the loaf out of the pan (still using a hot mitt — the liner is hot too!) and gently peel the liner away from the loaf.
Let it cool.
This is easily the hardest part of the whole process! But it’s important. If you cut it before it cools, the whole thing will get sticky and collapse into something somewhat less than bread. Cooling is actually part of the baking process.
Feel free to take pictures and send to your friends. Invite them over, even. Or keep the whole thing to yourself. Also of note is that this bread makes delicious croutons — the texture is just lovely for it. Cut the day-old bread into cubes, toss with olive oil (and any herbs you’re into at the moment) and broil on a sheet pan for a few minutes, stir, and broil again, repeating until they are as crisp as you prefer.