Homemade bread made (really) easy

November 4, 2012

Like every other gluten eater I know, I totally adore yummy bread.  When Sam and I realized that we judge all breakfast restaurants by the quality of their toast, we decided to make a rule in our house: buy only good bread.  Thing is, the kind of bread we like is fairly expensive per loaf.  I started making my own loaves occasionally with fabulous results. Making bread is fairly easy, but its time consuming, and once Judah came along it was too much for me.  I found it too difficult to coordinate starting a loaf at the right time so that it would be ready for dinner.

That's when someone introduced me to "dutch oven" bread, also known as "the easiest bread you will ever make" (all thanks to you, Amy!).  This recipe has been a lifesaver, and its so easy, I have literally stopped buying bread at the store.  I have tried and tested several variations and am ready to present to you my version, which is our new staple. I make this bread three times a week. Hands-on time (including clean-up) is about 10 minutes. Total. Oh my!  

The three characteristics of dutch oven bread are:
1. you don't kneed it
2. you let it sit out overnight
3. you cook it in a hot pot

Other great things about dutch oven bread:
1. it has only 4 ingredients
2. it uses no oil
3. it has a fabulous crispy crust and a soft, chewy inside
4. did I mention it's super easy??

Here are the step-by-step instructions. If you work at home like me, or just want fresh bread on a weekend, you have GOT to try it!

1. Fill a measuring cup with 1.5 cups warm (not hot) water. Stir in 1 teaspoon of yeast. Let sit for 5 minutes.
Note: If you use packets of yeast, you can just throw in the entire packet.

2. Mix in a bowl: 3.5 cups flour and 2 teaspoons salt.
Note: I use 2 cups all-purpose flour and 1.5 cups whole wheat flour.  Whole wheat bread always calls for as much or more white flour as wheat flour. I've tried bread flour, too, but it doesn't make much of a difference in this recipe.

3. Pour yeast water over dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise 12-24 hours.
Note: I have not had success with waiting less than 12 hours. This is due to the small amount of yeast in this recipe and the fact that you don't kneed the bread. You will know when the dough is ready because it will have doubled in size and there will be bubbles covering the surface.

4. Use a spatula to plop the dough onto a sheet of parchment paper.  Lightly lay plastic wrap on top. Let rise 1-2 hours.
Note: You can also plop it onto a floured cutting board, and then drop it directly into the pot. I like to use parchment paper because it is less clean up!  If you are in a hurry, you can let the bread rise in a warm place, such as the stove top of a heating oven, and it may be ready within 45 minutes. You will know when its ready because it will have doubled in size again.

I like to use a fairly small pot, so I cut the parchment paper to help it fit. This is not necessary if you use a big pot. 
Note: I took off the plastic wrap before I took this picture. Don't forget to cover the dough to protect it while it rises.

5. Place an oven-safe pot in the oven and pre-heat oven with the pot inside to 425 degrees. I find that my 2.5 quart pot makes a nice, round loaf.  When the oven is ready, carefully drop the dough, paper and all, into the hot pot and return to the oven.  The hardest part about this step is remembering not to touch the hot handle of the pot out of instinct!

6. Bake with cover on for 28 minutes. Remove cover and bake for another 10 minutes.  You are supposed to let the bread sit for a while before slicing it, but I usually can't wait more than a few minutes!  Enjoy your yummy bread!

Once cooled, I place the loaf in a ziplock bag and leave it on the counter. It lasts about 3 days. If there is any left after that, we either make french toast, or I slice it into cubes and throw it in the freezer to make croutons later. I am also on the hunt for a good bread pudding recipe if anyone has one to share!

I love this bread so much, I don't know if I'll ever go back.  Let me know what you think.  Any other dutch oven bread converts out there?  Anyone want to give this a try?
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