Fresh baked bread is one of those intoxicating smells that draws you to the local cafe or the bakery department of the grocery store. If you own a cast-iron enamel Dutch oven, you can replicate that smell and the delicious product at home. If you don't own a Dutch oven yet, consider purchasing one. I use a 7 quart Le Creuset Dutch oven for everything from pastas and curries to whole roasted chickens and of course, fresh baked bread! There are more affordable brands of Dutch ovens available at department stores, Target, or even occasionally at Marshall's. I purchased mine at a Le Creuset outlet and if you love the brand but not the price, I would recommend you do the same. Be sure the handle on the lid is rated for high temperatures. If the one you have isn't rated for temperatures above 450°F you can purchase a metal replacement knob. Once you have a Dutch oven this recipe is surprisingly simple and creates a perfectly crusty loaf that is fluffy and chewy on the inside.
Working With Yeast
Working with yeast can be daunting. I will admit, I have baked everything under the sun but have avoided anything that used yeast because I was intimated by its rumored fickleness. Let me put your fears to rest now. It's not as bad as you think! Bring some water to boil in an electric kettle or on the stove. Mix equal parts boiled water and cooled refrigerator water. This should give you the perfect temperature water to proof your yeast. You can tell the yeast is ready by the look. If it is foaming and has a strong smell, it's good.
Tools You'll Need
Cast-Iron Enamel Dutch Oven
Amazon Price: $400.00 $249.00 Buy Now
(price as of Apr 13, 2014)
1 1/2 cups warm water 100 - 115°F
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 - 2 teaspoon salt
Yeast is typically sold in packets of 2 1/2 teaspoons. You can put the remainder of the packet in the freezer and store until next time. If you have a thermometer, I would recommend using it just to make sure you're in the correct temperature range and that the water is not too hot. At about 130°F yeast cells die.
Mix 1 and 1/2 cups warm water with 1 teaspoon yeast.
Allow the mixture to sit for about 5 minutes until it becomes foamy.
Mix in 3 cups of flour and 1 to 2 teaspoons of salt until the dough becomes shaggy and sticky. If you prefer a saltier bread go with 1 1/2 teaspoons. If you are not sure, go with 1 teaspoon and when it's done you can eat it with salted butter.
Cover the bowl with a dish towel and set aside for 12 - 18 hours. You can leave it up to 24 hours.
Preheat the oven at 450°F.
Place the Dutch oven with the lid in the preheated oven and heat the pot for 30 minutes.
Pour the sticky risen dough onto a floured surface and gently shape it into a round loaf.
Carefully, remove the heated pot from the oven and place the dough in it.
Cover and return to the oven for 30 minutes.
Remove the lid and bake for an additional 10 - 15 minutes.
Carefully, remove the Dutch oven, remove the bread and place it on a cooling rack.
Allow it to cool ten minutes or so before digging in. If you're feeling adventurous after this recipe, some other flavors to consider are cheddar chive, rosemary, and sage loaves. Add 2 - 3 tablespoons of your favorite fresh herbs or 1 - 2 teaspoons of dried herbs to the dough and see how it transform it! Have you tried Dutch oven breads? Leave a comment! I would love to read your thoughts and suggestions.