Father loved to bake bread. I remember watching him as he would knead dough, shaping perfect loaves of yeasty yumminess. It was just recently I realized that I hadn’t baked a homemade loaf reminiscent of the Old World bread he used to create in the family kitchen many, many years ago.
So I took a leap of faith, pulling out the large pink Pyrex mixing bowl he always used, and went to work. I think he would be proud.
And he thought I wasn’t paying attention. I certainly was. There.
In my quest to find his personal recipe, I searched through every page of old cookbooks he might have tucked it into. I rummaged through baskets of clippings to no avail. I found every single recipe he had written down, except for the bread. After a several hour search, I decided to turn to trusty Google and see if there were any on the internet.
Sure enough, at the top of the search, I found Ben Starr, who has had a lot of experience in baking Old World breads. This one was as close to Dad’s as I could find. He calls it an “overnight” bread. The slow fermentation process of letting it sit that long promotes a moist, bready center and a crusty outer shell. Not to mention the enhanced flavor from allowing the gluten to gradually develop.
I followed his directions, even though I remained skeptical in this process. The initial mix of flour, salt, water, and yeast (only 1/4 teaspoon!) was goopy. I put it in the bowl and let it ferment until the next day.
After twelve hours, it had started to bubble and doubled in size. I turned the watery dough out onto a floured pastry slab, and kneaded it just enough to push out the air for it to become elastic. I then twisted it into a ball, laid it down on a flour sack towel placed in the same mixing bowl, covered and let it rise.
So this is where it gets interesting. Instead of shaping the dough and placing it on a baking sheet, you toss it out in to one hand and then toss it in to a preheated Dutch oven. That’s right! You put the lid on and bake it until the loaf is crispy golden and tender.
The heavenly aroma of fresh bread baking wafted through the house. Now how’s that for a home-baked loaf of bread?
The effort was worth it. Well, well worth it.
If I can do it, you can do it too! If you’ve never baked bread like this before, I challenge you to give it a try. You’ll be so proud of yourself. It looks like you went to an expensive bakery for it. Just make sure you have plenty of real butter at room temperature ready and waiting to be slathered on that first warm piece you slice in to. Mmm. Pure comfort.
I suggest you read about how Ben does this in more detail at his website benstarr.com. All it takes is a few simple ingredients and a little bit of patience.
Now that I have the basics down, I’ll be experimenting with different types of flour with additions such as seeds, oats, herbs, olives, or whatever fits my fancy. All the while, Dad will be with me in spirit. And so, the legacy lives on.
- 3½ cups bread flour
- 2 teaspoons kosher, table or sea salt - DO NOT USE IODIZED
- ¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1½ cups filtered water, room temperature
- The day before you bake the bread (12-24 hours)
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the bread flour, salt, and yeast, stirring with your fingers.
- Add the water. Stir with a wooden spoon until it resembles dough.
- Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Leave on counter.
- The next day, scoop the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.
- Knead it a few times to push out excess air. Twist and shape into a ball.
- Line the mixing bowl you used with a cotton sack towel dusted with flour. Place dough inside.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise until doubled in size, approx. 2-3 hours.
- Place Dutch oven in baking oven and heat to 450 degrees.
- When oven temperature is reached, remove the Dutch oven.
- With a floured hand, toss the dough out of bowl with one hand into the other hand.
- Then toss dough directly into the heated Dutch oven.
- Using a sharp knife or scissors, deeply score 3 times evenly spaced on top.
- Place lid on top of Dutch oven and return to bake in oven for 40 minutes.
- Check to make sure crust is golden. When ready, remove from oven.
- Carefully remove loaf to a wire cooling rack.
- Immediately pierce with a small sharp knife in several areas to let steam escape.
- This keeps the crust from getting soft.
- Let cool and enjoy!