There is really no comfort food like fresh baked bread warm out of the oven.
Something about tearing off a piece of steaming hot ciabatta or sourdough, with its spongy texture from all the holes and bubbles on the inside, makes for an experience that can’t even be compared with eating store-bought sliced bread.
For me, the best way to enjoy homemade bread is simply dipped in a good olive oil (and maybe a few seasonings like crushed red pepper flakes, dried oregano, and black pepper).
And sometimes I add some grated parmesan cheese too :) I really could eat this all day!
As much as I have always loved cooking and baking, for quite a while bread-making seemed to me like a special secret complicated process that required starters and “bread flour” and various stages of rising and proofing and measuring temperatures or even using a bread machine. Although those fancy things can be fun once you get the hang of baking bread, they aren’t necessary to make a good “artisan” loaf!
For the average person who doesn’t have the free time to tend to a ball of dough every three hours for the entire day, or just wants a simpler approach to homemade bread, I created this recipe that literally takes minutes.
Before you go to bed, simply mix together yeast, warm water, some flour, and a tiny bit of brown sugar and salt (just to make the flavor a little deeper).
At this point, the dough will be kind of wet and not knead-able at all. Just seal a top on the container (I used a glass tupperware kind of thing) and put it in the fridge overnight.
The yeast in bread dough is activated by warmer temperatures, so a lot of bread recipes require two-hour or three-hour long periods of rising time “in a warm place” or “covered with kitchen towels or blankets.” Although the refrigerator is not a warm place, the rising time in my recipe is extended (twelve hours rather than three) so the same process happens, just at a slower rate, while you are sleeping.
In the morning, you can poke your finger in the dough and see that it has risen up and become more like bread dough
I sprinkle flour over the top so that when I pull out a handful of dough, it doesn’t stick to my hands
Then I knead it just a few times with a small sprinkling of extra flour on the counter, and form it into a ball.
I like the look and texture of cornmeal on the bottom of the loaf, because it makes it seem really professional and it gives a nice bit of extra crunch to the bottom crust. So I put a piece of parchment paper down on a baking sheet to prevent sticking, sprinkle cornmeal and put the ball of dough on top, then dust the top with flour and “slash” some lines or an X on top of the dough ball.
This can be the hardest part, because often the knife will stick to the dough when you try to cut it and it can ruin the look of the loaf of bread. I have tried dipping the knife in flour before I cut the bread, and that works okay, but the best method is to get the knife a little wet with cold water and then make the cuts.
While the oven is preheating (for about thirty minutes) let the bread rise with a kitchen towel over it. Then bake it until the crust is golden and hard when you tap it.
It really is possible to make gorgeous-looking bread with so little effort! You can literally wake up, roll the dough into a ball and put it on a baking sheet, go take a shower while the oven preheats, come back half an hour later and put the bread in the hot oven, and by the time you get your coffee brewing, your fresh-baked artisanal bread will be ready to enjoy at breakfast time!
Butter and raspberry jam are nice together on a slice of homemade bread
And pain au chocolate (bread with chocolate) is a popular French breakfast
I also like to add fresh fruit to combinations like these for a tea-time snack.
I topped bread pieces with melted semisweet chocolate and strawberry slices, and others with orange marmalade and peach slices.
My recipe makes three smaller loaves or two larger loaves, and you don’t have to make them all at once. You can make a tiny bread roll one day as a snack, leave the container in the fridge, and then come back three days later and make a loaf of bread. Actually, the longer it sits, the better the bread will be!
Simple Homemade Bread
1 ½ teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
270 g flour (a little over 2 cups, see note at the bottom)
a little bit of fine ground cornmeal (optional)
Put the yeast in a large, sealable container. Stir in 1 cup of warm (not hot) water to dissolve the yeast.
Stir in the sugar, salt, and then the flour.
Mix well to form a sticky dough and put the lid on the container. Put the container in the refrigerator overnight (or for about 12 hours, the longer it rests in the refrigerator, the better).
Open the container and sprinkle a little flour on top of the bread dough so it doesn’t stick to your hands when you pull a piece out.
For a larger loaf, take half of the dough out and knead it with just enough flour to prevent it from sticking to the counter. Then roll it into a ball and place it on a baking sheet or glass baking dish that has been lined with parchment paper and then sprinkled with a little cornmeal for texture on the bottom of the bread (you don’t have to do this step if you don’t have cornmeal or don’t want to use it).
To make smaller rolls, do the same thing but use small handfuls of the dough rolled into golf-ball-sized pieces and placed a couple of inches apart on the baking sheet or dish.
Dust the tops of the loaves (or rolls) with a little flour and make slashes or X’s across the top with a sharp knife that has been wet with some water to prevent the dough from sticking to the knife.
Cover with one or two kitchen towels and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour. While you are waiting, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake the bread until it is golden and hard on the outside. Depending on your oven and on the size of the loaves of bread or rolls, it might take anywhere from 30 minutes to about an hour. Check it every once in a while, but don’t be afraid to let the crust get nice and crispy :)
*NOTE: I measured the flour by weight (because depending on how much air is in your flour, cup measurements can vary by A LOT). But for people without kitchen scales, 270 grams of flour was about 2 cups and 3 Tablespoons for me.