In this post, I am going to show you how to make a boule of bread as beautiful as this one
using just flour, yeast, salt, and water.
There will be no kneading, no proofing of yeast in a bowl to make sure it is active, and no punching down dough that has doubled in size. In fact, you will pretty much need to forget everything you ever learned about making bread from scratch and use the new and “revolutionary” methods developed by bakers Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francis in their bestselling cookbook, The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The authors even have a book on gluten-free bread.
Since reading their book and using their method for the last two months, I feel very comfortable making bread and have not needed to buy any.
This bread is wonderful toasted for breakfast,
lovely for sandwiches at lunch,
and chewy and tasty when served warm at dinner along with a stick of butter.
But, I haven’t told you the best part: you pre-make and store the dough in the refrigerator until you are ready to shape and bake it. Yup, open our refrigerator door on any given day, and you will see a Cambro (a large, lidded, commercial grade food storage container) of dough, ready to be pulled out whenever we desire warm, crusty bread. The dough is good for up to two weeks and develops a mild sourdough flavor as it ages.
Let’s get started. Read over the entire post before you begin. It might sound complicated, but once you do it a few times, it will become second nature. Some tools that are helpful, but not required, are a digital scale, a round, 6-quart Cambro, a pizza stone, a pizza peel, and parchment paper. Know that the first few times I made this recipe I was in a beach house without any of the tools mentioned above, and I was able to make delicious bread.
Yield: 3 one-pound boules of bread
Preheat Oven: 450º, but not until you are ready to bake the bread.
About Flours: This recipe calls for all-purpose (AP) unbleached flour. The authors use Publix’s brand. I bake with King Arthur flours which have more protein than other AP flours and thus require an extra ¼ cup of water, per the authors. The authors suggest bumping up the water to 3⅓ cups if using bread flour. The authors suggest not using cake or pastry flours.
Measuring Flour — Weighing vs. Scooping: For accurate and consistent results, use a digital kitchen scale. If you use a scale, zero out the weight of the empty container before adding flour. If using a measuring cup, do not pack the flour and be sure to level the cup with a knife.
Ingredients: this is the basic recipe
2 pounds (6½ cups) all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 tablespoon (fine) salt or 1½ tablespoons (course) kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated, active, dry yeast
3 cups lukewarm water (at 100º)
Ingredients: Below is my modification of the recipe. It still has 2 pounds of flour, but I’ve incorporated about 15% whole wheat flour without affecting the chemistry.
5 ounces King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour (a heaping cup)
1 pound, 11 ounces King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon (fine) sea salt
1 tablespoon granulated, active, dry yeast
3¼ cups lukewarm water (at 100º)
Mix the Dough:
Weigh a 6-quart mixing container on a digital scale. Zero it out. Add in the flour(s), salt and yeast. Mix dry ingredients together with a wire whisk.
Add the warmed water. Mix the ingredients with a spatula, incorporating all of the flour from the bottom of the container. Put the lid on, but do not seal it so the gasses can escape. Allow dough to rest for two hours on the countertop. It won’t be resting though; the yeast will become activated by the water and the subsequent fermentation process that ensues will make the dough bubble and rise — and become delicious.
The dough will be wetter than what you may be used to.
After two hours, you could make your first loaf of bread, but I prefer to put the dough in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. Chilling it makes the dough easier to shape into a boule, and it gives time for the flavors to become more complex. Do not punch the dough down. Ever.
Shape the Dough
Before you get started, prep the workspace where the dough will rise. I shape the dough and let it rise over a parchment paper-lined pizza peel, but you could put the dough on a cornmeal-covered baking sheet if you don’t have a peel. Sprinkle flour on your hands and over the top of the dough in the Cambro before diving in to scoop out dough. This will help keep the tacky and moist dough from sticking to your hands. Pull out one pound of dough, about one-third of it.
Shape the dough into a ball. This next step is important: stretch the top surface of the ball around and tuck it into the bottom, rotating the ball a quarter-turn at a time. Repeat this motion for about 30 seconds. Here’s a video by one of the authors. Add just enough additional flour to keep your hands from sticking to the dough. The goal is to flour the “skin” or “cloak” of the boule and not to incorporate flour into the interior. Place the dough on a sheet of parchment paper, uncovered, to rest and rise for 40 minutes.
The dough will spread out as it rises. It doesn’t get tall. That’s okay; the heat and steam in the oven will cause the dough to rise and round out as it bakes. The process is referred to as “oven-rise.” As proof, I once dropped a loaf of risen dough on the flour as I was putting it in the oven. I picked it up, quickly reshaped it, put it back on the peel, and slid it into the oven. The bread still rose — higher than ever. It’s a mystery. (PS: I swear the floor was spotless.)
Prepare the Oven:
While the dough is rising, prep the oven space. Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven. If you have a pizza stone, put it on the rack. On the rack beneath it, place an empty pan (that will be filled with water later) to create steam. The steam created by the addition of hot water once the bread is placed in the oven is the most crucial step in getting the bread to rise higher. Turn oven on to 450º. Here’s a photo of the set-up.
Back to the Rising Dough:
After the bread has risen for 40 minutes,
dust the top of the dough lightly with flour and using a sharp knife, make 3 or 4 slashes on top. Allow dough to rest for five more minutes after that.
Slide the dough onto the pizza stone if using one, or if not using a stone, place the baking sheet in the oven and bake the dough for about 35 minutes. The bread will be browned and sound hollow when tapped when done.
Remove bread from oven and place on an open wire rack to cool so the bottom of the loaf can crisp up. Allow to cool completely before slicing, or the interior could become doughy.
The only times I skip the step of cooling bread completely is when I’m serving it hot for dinner. These three boules were still hot when I quickly sliced them for a tableful of waiting family members sitting around the dinner table.
(photo credit: Kristen Ivory)
The bread disappeared with lots of gushing going on by those who were slathering each slice with butter as they ate them. That’s always a sight to behold for a cook.
To have a continuous supply of dough in the fridge, make a new Cambro of dough whenever the last container is emptied.
There haven’t been any failures in the taste department. Something magical happens while that moist dough ferments. Every loaf I’ve made has tasted extraordinary, even if it wasn’t always a pretty loaf.
My early failures were related to getting the dough to rise sufficiently so the bread wouldn’t be too dense. That problem went away when I started weighing the flour and added steam to the oven to encourage oven-rise.
I hope I’ve inspired you to give bread-making a try. It a very fulfilling experience. Please feel free to ask questions in the Comments section.
(photo credit: Andrew Wright)
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