One of the most simple things you can do at home is to make your own bread.
I used to be terrible at baking bread. My first early success was using Jim Lahey’s No Knead bread recipe. I was proud, but felt that the bake-in-a-cast-iron-pot method was a little fiddly. (What if I was already using my cast-iron pot for something else? What if I wanted to make bread at a friend’s house?) Then, I found Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.
Of course, this tome had been circulating for a while before I deigned to actually buy it and try it. At first blush, I scoffed as most people that spend hours each day in a kitchen would. Bread that looks like that in five minutes a day? Either they’re fiercely exaggerating, or it’s the worst book title marketing I’ve ever seen.
I’ll go with the latter.
There’s so much to love about the Artisan Bread technique. I love that it scales easily, and that the proportions are easy to remember. That there are so many variations. I love that the end result is on par with the artisan loaves I’ve seen at the farmers’ market, organic at a fraction of the price. Most of all, I love how easy the whole thing is.
My first batches were using one of the spouse-unit’s classic blue Rosti Margrethe bowls. It had plenty of space for the crazy doubling (or tripling), but ours don’t have a lid, and the whole thing took up odd space in the fridge. Several websites and forums recommended moving up these 6 quart food storage containers, and the process became even simpler.
Since I only use the containers for bread dough, I filled one with the exact amount of water from the Master recipe and marked the water line on the outside with a permanent marker. Now, every time I make a batch, I just add warm water to the line, add the salt & yeast and give a quick stir. Then I add all the flour and mix with a silicone spatula until it’s all shaggy and leave to rise on the countertop. After it’s doubled, I stick it in the fridge and forget about it. Sometimes, if I’m about to go out or to bed, I stick it straight in the fridge to rise.
I accidentally left my pizza stone in our old house when we moved. I should really get another one, but I’ve been contemplating a baking steel instead. My first pizza stone cracked from mishandling, and so the second one forever took up a rack in the oven for fear of my breaking it. I think I need something less fragile.
In the meantime a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet does just fine. Pull out dough, shape into loaf or ball, dump on baking sheet for 20 minutes. Bake for 4o minutes and done.
I bought my father-in-law the book for Christmas two years ago. I also bought him Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. Since my dear father-in-law is no slouch, he’s been cranking out formal, ready-in-three-days loaves. You know, the kind where he starts by grinding his own flour? That kind. And he never even cracked open the Artisan Bread book until I blindly whipped up the Master recipe dough one lazy afternoon and had bread ready for dinner (those loaves just above). And another fresh loaf the next morning. And dinner rolls that night. And so on.
And he read the book. Finally.