Although Spring has technically arrived, temperatures here in Lausanne have still been a little all over the place. As such, I’ve continued making “winter food,” such as stews, soups and whatnot. I mean, when it’ll be months before you can justifiably indulge in heavy carbs and fatty foods again, you need to take advantage of it.
The other day, I made a Croatian bean soup known as grah, which has all kinds of lovely ingredients including a medley of legumes, hints of bay leaf and a big chunk of smoked bacon to top it off. The traditional way to eat this soup is with a big hunk of bread and an even bigger glass of beer — a great meal for dieting, if you couldn’t tell! Anyway, although I wasn’t feeling ambitious enough to make my own brew, I did have a little extra time on my hands to take a shot at making my own bread to go with it.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m terrible at making bread — I mean it, I’m terrible. I’m definitely not some professional baker who can just whip up a loaf on a whim. This was a big gamble for me. Then I found this recipe whose title essentially said “good luck screwing this one up” and I knew it was the one for me.
I started in on the bread, carefully measuring each cup of flour and each gram of yeast, already feeling pessimistic about the outcome given my anything-but-exact imperial to metric conversions and my rather pathetic lack of equipment. After a couple hours of rising, I formed up and scored my loaves before putting them in the oven. About half an hour later, I was surprised — no, shocked — to see that my bread had risen and browned beautifully, and even more shocked when I cut it open to find it was perfect.
I figured that if I could do this with my bread baking history, then anyone can pull it off. And so, without further ado, I present to you my slightly modified version of the recipe I’ll be making weekly now.
Basic Crusty White Bread
Yield: 3 medium loaves of bread
Time: 2.5 hours (30 minutes active, 2 hours for the bread to rise)
3 cups lukewarm water
7 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ tbsp salt
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 ½ tbsp instant or active dry yeast
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the mixture, followed by the water, making sure to cover all the yeast.
With your hand or a spoon, mix all the ingredients until everything is combined.
Transfer the dough to a lightly greased, very large mixing bowl or container (at least 6 quarts)
Cover the bowl or container with saran wrap and allow the dough to rise for about one hour in a warm place. After one hour, punch the dough down, re-wrap and allow to continue rising in the fridge for at least one additional hour (or up to seven days). Note: The more time the dough spends in the fridge, the more like sourdough the bread will become.
Preheat the oven to 450°F, placing a cookie sheet with edges underneath the rack you intend to bake bread on. Meanwhile, form about one third of the dough into a 15-ounce piece, using flour as needed to prevent sticking.
Place the loaf on a parchment-lined baking sheet, score the top with a very sharp paring knife and dust it lightly with flour to retain moisture.
Place the bread in the oven and pour about two cups of water onto the preheated pan underneath, closing the oven door immediately to keep the moisture in the oven.
Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the bread is a dark golden brown.
Allow the loaf to cool slightly before cutting.
Once totally cooled, store leftover bread in a paper bag.
What I love about this recipe is that you can leave your extra dough in the fridge and just throw a loaf in the oven every couple days or halve the portioning and make six small loaves to have fresh bread every day! Nothing beats the smell, texture and flavour of fresh bread. Give it a try!
Happy baking! Until next time,
Pro Tip: Check out all of John’s previous recipes @johnkempskitchen on Instagram and Facebook!