For me, cooking is like enjoying art; it’s an opportunity to transport.
It’s a door that stands wide open each day, regardless of our current requirement to be at home and despite the ridiculous weather here in Maine. It may be snowing in April, but when I choose to go through that open door, I can select any path I want.
On any given day, I may have had enough coffee to leap out on the adventurous mountain trail—I sling open the fridge to assess what’s there—to come up with some new combination of familiar ingredients.
Maybe it’s the end of a long day and the morning’s coffee is completely gone. So I take a direction off an already familiar path and make a change to a recipe I know because I’m missing a key ingredient and need to substitute.
But on a day like today, I choose that serene quiet lane that I know so well, the one that’s instantly satisfying. Baking. It’s the path that brings me comfort.
Like the warmth of an old cast iron wood stove on a damp snowy day in April, baking creates warmth in my heart and a certain contentment in my home.
How I love pulling a gloriously brown, crusty, and blistered loaf of bread from the oven. I can’t think of anything better for setting my immediate world right again.
Enjoy this absolutely easy and totally foolproof recipe for crackling crusty bread.
The recipe path is for you. And like all recipes I love, it’s unfussy. It’s also full of opportunities to make substitutions and utilize ingredients you already have in your cupboards.
Foolproof Crusty Bread
Each of these is a staple to have on hand in your pantry.
- 1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
- 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 6 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (substitution: you can really use any flour you have to make this bread; each will just yield different results)
This recipe takes 10 minutes of active time, but you will need to allow 3-4 hours for the rising and baking of your amazing crusty loaves. No kneading necessary!
In a large bowl (the bowl of a stand mixer if you have one), mix the yeast and salt into 3 cups of lukewarm water. It’ll be warm to the touch, which is about 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Stir in the flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. (Note: I substituted 1.5 cups of gluten free flour because I ran short on wheat flour…as a result, my loaf will not rise as much as others) This dough will be quite loose and even seems sloppy; don’t worry; this is yeast, not rocket science.
Cover loosely. I like to use a damp kitchen towel.
Let your bread dough rise at room temperature for 2 hours. This can continue for up to 5 hours. A warm corner of your home is perfect: next to the stove, in a sunny window, or even in a dryer that has just finished a load of socks! (PSA: If you choose the dryer, I recommend a PostIt note warning over the start button.)
Now. Take an opportunity to relax with your favorite art collection from the Farnsworth.
Back to bread! You can choose to prepare your dough for baking now, or refrigerate it for later. I turned my dough out on a floured counter;
it needed a bit more flour, so I folded 1/2 cup in:
I divided my dough in half (using a serrated knife to cut) to bake half now and half later. Any dough postponed for later should be covered and go back in the refrigerator to use within two weeks.*
With the portion of dough you have decided to bake, use a serrated knife to divide it for shaping into loaves. This recipe is designed to make four “standard”-sized loaves.
Turn each piece of dough in your hands, one at a time, to gently stretch the ball into a round, and then tuck the edges back under to make a ball again. Do this several times so that you fashion a smooth, rounded loaf with a lumpy underneath where all the edges have been tucked. This bumpiness will come together during the baking.
Put your dough on parchment on an upside-down baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal and let the dough ball(s) rest for 40 or 50 minutes.
Prep the oven by placing one rack in the lowest position and one rack in the center position. Place a metal broiler pan on the bottom rack and a baking stone, cast iron pan, or dutch oven on the center rack. Set your oven to 450℉ and heat your stone or pan at that temperature for 30 minutes longer, after the stove registers that it has reached 450℉.
Dust your dough balls with flour. Slash the top(s) with a serrated (or very sharp) knife several times. Slide each dough loaf onto the stone or pan and quickly shut the oven door.
Fill a cup with about 1 cup of hot water. Pour that water into the broiler pan that is on the bottom rack and quickly shut your oven door to trap the steam.
Oh my gosh; enjoy that smell! Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely.
Slice or tear into it! Slather with butter and smile.
If not using a stone, you can pinch-hit with a cast iron pan.
*If using refrigerated dough, you will need to let your prepared dough balls rest an additional hour before proceeding with the recipe.
Katherine White is the Farnsworth’s Special Events Manager and is responsible for the art museum’s widely acclaimed events, such as the Summer Gala. With more than 25 years of experience as a yacht chef, caterer, and designer, her favorite pairing is unfussy food with beloved people, and making memorable meals with what she already has. Enjoy this recipe, inspired by the Farnsworth collection.« Previous Post | Teaching Artist Profile: Cynthia Motian McGuirlWomen of Vision: Cig Harvey | Next Post »