Saturday, April 14, 2012

5-Minute Artisan Bread

I don’t eat bread on a regular basis, and in fact I may only eat sliced bread (or bagels or English muffins, for that matter) once every two weeks. The only exception is a good hearty wheat bread or an artisan loaf that has some heft and flavor to it. Being from the Bay Area, sourdough is a longtime favorite, but we have also been fortunate to have some very creative bakers in the region that put out flavorful artisan breads, with a good crust and crumb. I am often tempted to eat a loaf by myself, which is saying a lot.

The best bread is that which comes right out of the oven—warm and fragrant and flavorful, without need for butter or other accompaniments. For over 30 years I have attempted to make my own breads, something my Granny did on a regular basis. In fact, once she bought me a bread machine thinking that would help me along, but I quickly found the device useless, and the shape less than optimal. Given limited storage space, it didn’t last long in my household.

I’ve even invested money in cookbooks to further my cause: most recently Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day. But I have yet to fully embrace a recipe that I want to make weekly. Until now…..

I have never, and I mean NEVER, encountered a recipe that I like so much for a bread. It combines all the requirements of a suburban cook: very little time, very few ingredients, and a delicious product.

The process is super simple and requires NO KNEADING. In fact, it really only takes 5 minutes of active hands-on time. Truly…..

In a nutshell, you mix your 4 ingredients for a minute or two, leave them in the bowl overnight, heat up a pan, throw it in, and Voila!, 45 minutes later you have a crusty artisan bread, reminiscent of the $4 loaves you find in the market.

Although the timing and the taste are the most significant attributes of this recipe, there is an added bonus. It lends itself to a variety of flavors. Want a raisin-walnut-cinnamon bread for breakfast? No problem. Herb bread for that pot of minestrone? Can do. A cheesy-sundried tomato bread to accompany pasta? Easy peasy.

Other than the 4 ingredients, the only other thing you truly need is a cast iron enameled pan. I have one cheap version from Home Goods ($29.95) and one fancy Le Crueset ($199). Because I double the recipe—every time—I use both. And they work equally well. The shape of the pan doesn’t matter—it can be a round pan or an oval one. (Skillets are too shallow, however.) I’m thinking that a plain cast iron Dutch oven might also work as well, although I do not have one to experiment with.

So, go ahead and give it a try. Don’t be intimidated. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.

5-Minute Artisan Loaf

3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt and yeast.  Add water and mix with a wooden spoon until a shaggy mixture forms.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set aside for 12 to 18 hours.  (I usually start this after dinner or before bedtime to make the next day.)

Heat oven to 450 degrees.  When the oven has reached 450 degrees place a cast iron pot with a lid in the oven and heat the pot for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, pour dough onto a heavily floured surface and shape into a ball.  Cover with plastic wrap and let set while the pot is heating. 

Remove hot pot from the oven and drop in the dough. Cover and return to the oven for 30 minutes.  Remove the lid and bake an additional 15 minutes.  Take bread from the oven and place on a cooling rack to cool.

Flavoring Suggestions:
Raisin-walnut-cinnamon, rosemary-lemon-Gruyere, lemon zest-thyme-Asiago, mixed fresh herbs (your choice), sun-dried tomato with shredded mozzerella, pesto….the combinations are limitless.

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