Alchemy for simpletons. Or: the minimalist loaf

To most intents and purposes, I’m a pretty good cook. I’m great with vegetables, fish, pulses, pasta and puddings. When it comes to baking bread, however, I’m a complete dunderhead.

To me, baking bread is closer to alchemy than cookery. Instead of ingredients, you have base elements: water, salt, flour, microscopic-organisms, heat and precious, precious hope. Perhaps for this reason, my oven has produced many a floury quagmire and blackened cobblestone. I’m wanted for mass-murder by the yeast FBI.

Naturally, I find this incompetence fairly unsettling. Baking is something of a minimalist/frugalist/self-sufficientist linchpin. If you can somehow convert these base elements into a golden, glowing loaf, you’re symbolically empowered to do pretty much anything.

At last I have banished my incompetence. Today I produced twin golden-brown rustic loaves. Allow me to share the procedure that even a simpleton like me managed to follow:

Your base elements ingredients:

1.5 cups lukewarm tap water
0.75 tablespoons granulated yeast
0.75 tablespoons of coarse salt
3.25 cups all-purpose white flour (no need to sift)

Instructions:

1. In a large bowl, mix the yeast, water and salt. Add all the flour, then use a wooden spoon to mix until all ingredients are uniformly moist. This will produce a loose, wet dough.

2. Cover with a lid but leave room for a little air to get in. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature for 2.5 hours.

3. After rising, sprinkle a baking tray with flour.

4. Uncover the dough and sprinkle the surface with flour. Cut the dough in half with a serrated knife.

5. Take one half and roll it into an approximate ball with your hands. Place it on the floured baking tray and leave to sit for 40 minutes. Leave the other half in the bowl and place in the refrigerator, covered by a non-airtight lid. This second half will keep for up to 14 days. It can be tomorrow’s bread.

6. Put the baking tray onto the middle shelf of an oven, pre-heated to 450°F. On the bottom shelf, place a broiler containing a cup of warm water.

7. Use a knife to score a cross in the top of the loaf. Bake for 30 minutes. Bread!

This is a simplified version of a recipe in a book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

The thing I love most about this procedure (aside from the end result) is that most of the action takes place while you’re reading a book. The yeast does the work for you. Talk about passive income. Also, this way of baking bread requires no machinery or even kneading.

We went for dinner in a favourite restaurant last night and concluded that their bread tasted like arse by comparison to mine. Here’s an ultrasound of my new baby:

About

Robert Wringham is a humorist and the editor-in-chief of New Escapologist.

10 Responses to “Alchemy for simpletons. Or: the minimalist loaf”

  1. Cap says:

    Good to see you baking! Try and use other liquids in order to change the outcome of the bread. Lately I’ve made modified italian white breads with oat milk. They grow faster than germs reproduce! Oh, and some oil/fat in the mix will give the bread better longetivity. I assume you eat your bread “al dente” though.

  2. Rob says:

    Hi Cap!

    Yeah, the baking project is exciting. Very enthusiastic about it. I’ll definitely try your oat milk suggestion. Does soya milk have a positive outcome? (Oat milk sounds perfect – I’m only asking about soya because I have some in the fridge right now).

    I tend to eat it in a rustic fashion (just tearing off a chunk to eat with pate, margarine or a preserve) but I also slice it for sandwiches.

  3. J-Hob says:

    I highly recommend the River Cottage book ‘Bread’, it’s an entertaining and informative read and really equips you with the knowledge to bake great bread and other doughy creations. There seems to be a new one out but this is the one that I use: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bread-River-Cottage-Handbook-No/dp/074759533X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1276674455&sr=8-1

    We call it the bread bible, it really does demystify the bread making process and makes it straight-forward to bake great bread.

  4. Cap says:

    Don’t know much about Soy milk in bread baking. It is worth a try though!

  5. Rob says:

    Turns out it’s not great in bread, but it works very well in Victoria sponge cake.

    Will try your oat milk tip as soon as I get some.

  6. Rob says:

    Thanks, J-Hob. Good old HF-W.

  7. […] Baked bread (not technically free but at 70¢ for two loaves, it’s hardly worth acknowledging as an […]

  8. […] My resolve to bake fresh bread every couple of days has fallen by the wayside. Not the result of laziness exactly, but a lack of […]

  9. nick says:

    Hi from Montreal!
    Thanks for the recipe. And great website. Love it!

  10. Rob says:

    You’re welcome, Nick. Follow us by RSS if you want to stay appraised.

    (I am also in Montreal)

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