I baked this loaf of bread. Yep, I did it. This wonderful, perfectly round, air-bubbly, still warm from the oven, undeniably bread-y to its very essence loaf came out of my oven. I’m no genius, and though I make a mean almond cake and can poach a passable egg, I’ve always thought that bread baking takes cooking beyond the artful science of experimentation and flavor into the ACTUAL science of chemical reactions, margins of error, and precision measurements- not usually my strong suit. My dear friend Kitty (who lives here) passed along this recipe to me with promises and assurances that The Recipe (a revision of the now-infamous no-knead Mark Bittman recipe that took home-ovens by storm in 2006) was, in fact foolproof. I can attest: make this. It is easy, cheap, and utterly, completely satisfying. Do you need a commercial kiln oven and generations of flour covered grandparents to make this? Nope, you only need about $3 worth of ingredients, a (preferably bright red) dutch oven, and 24 hours.
Bread a la Sheila McDuffie.
3 c bread flour
¼ tsp. yeast
1 and ¼ tsp. sea salt
1 and ½ c water at 75 degrees, plus a Tlb. or 2 (well or spring water)
Flour for dusting
Finishing: flour, bran, cornmeal, semolina flour, sesame seeds, flax seeds, or rice flour
Combine flour, yeast, and salt in a glass bowl. Add water and stir with a wooden spoon for 30-60 seconds until a shaggy dough forms and all the flour is incorporated. Add a bit more water if necessary. Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rest at 70-75 degrees for 12-16 hours or up to 20 hours.
Scrape the dough onto a well floured surface spread slightly into a flattened square, and fold all four sides, one by one, onto the center of the dough. Invert so the seam is down, dust with flour, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
Form the final loaf by holding the ball of dough in your hands and gently pulling and tucking under around the edges 8-10 times while rotating it. Be careful not to over-stretch—allow the gluten cloak to form. Generously coat a plate with the desired finishing and place the dough with the crease facing down. Or use parchment paper. Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 1 hour. Preheat the oven, with your Dutch oven in it at 475 for 30 minutes. Loaf rises for a total of 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Using oven mitts, take Dutch oven out of hot oven, dust with flour, and flip the dough into it or lower the parchment paper in. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake 30 minutes more, until the crust is a dark chestnut color. Interior temp: 180 degrees. Take bread out of the pan and cool on a rack for 1 hour. Do not cut until the hour is up.
Here’s a breakdown of the loaf timing to serve the bread the next day for 7pm dinner:
Mix dough 9:00 p.m.
Fold step 3:30 p.m. the next day (18 hours 30 minutes)
Form loaf 3:45ish
Preheat oven, etc. 4:45
Bread goes in 5:15
Cover comes off 5:45
Bread comes out 6:15
Ready to serve 7:15