Living up here, as far from town as we are, and as infrequent as our visits to town may be, we stock our pantry with bulk items like flour, sugar and powdered milk, and canned goods. We’d need a mighty large freezer if we were to keep all the bread here that we’d consume during the winter months. So baking bread on a regular basis becomes a necessity. I also quite enjoy it. It is simple and easy. Really! And nothing makes the house smell better than freshly baked bread. We live at an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet, and there are a lot of adjustments that have to be made for many baked goods up here, but bread, well, that’s just works well up here. Things rise faster up here, and fall faster. No problem with loaf bread, but big problem with cakes. You’ll see I tend to bake cookies and pies instead of cakes!
Anyway, there are so many different types of bread to make, it is fun to experiment. As with all recipes up here, if we don’t have exactly the right ingredients (which we rarely have, and obviously cannot just run out to the grocery store to go pick something up), we learn to improvise. It’s creative that way, and it usually works. Usually…
If you have never baked bread before, or if it’s been a while, please don’t be intimidated. Just try it. The following recipe is a good one to start with, because I don’t think you can go wrong, and it’s so simple. It only takes the bare minimum of ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast. It takes two days, but just a couple minutes “work” each day. The end result is a big, chunky, rustic loaf. It really impresses folks. They see this big, beautiful loaf and figure I’m a really good baker or something, and I smile inside, because I know I’m not – the recipe is just really easy and the bread is awesome, so it makes me look good! Like riding a good horse…
In a medium bowl, mix together 2 cups regular, all purpose flour and ¼ teaspoon yeast. Slowly add water, up to 1 ¼ cup, until you have a really thick heavy paste all stuck together on the fork or spoon you’re mashing it up with, but no more water than is needed. If it is too soft and sticky and wet and sticks to the bowl and not to itself, just add a little more flour. I use a fork to mash this up together, no kneading required. Takes about 2 minutes. Stir it up good, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and leave it on the counter all day. Several hours later or at the end of the day, put it in the fridge over night.
Take the dough you made yesterday out of the fridge and let sit on the counter for an hour to get to room temperature. In a larger bowl, mix together 3 cups flour, 2 tablespoons of salt, and 1 teaspoon yeast. Slowly add water, up to 1 ½ cup, until you have a thick, reasonably dry but completely mixed dough. Don’t add any more water that you need – keep it reasonably dry. And again, if it’s too wet, just add more flour. I use my hands to mix this mess, but you don’t knead it, just mix it. Then with your fingers, scoop out the dough from Day 1, and fold it in to the new dough. Cover the mix with plastic and let sit a couple of hours. Then, dig your fingers in the mix and mush it all up together. You may need some flour on your hands to prevent sticking. Cover again and let the mix sit another couple of hours. Then mash it up again, just lightly knead it. On a lightly floured surface, press it down with your finger tips until it is a rectangle about 8” x 10”. Fold in the corners, from the upper outside edges into the center, and pinch it into an oval loaf. Place the loaf, seam side down, on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. (I always double pan everything I bake up here – so use two baking sheets to prevent the bottom from burning.) Cover loosely with plastic, and let it sit until doubled in bulk, maybe another hour or so. When you’re ready to bake it (be sure your oven is hot), use a good sharp knife to score the top with a few diagonal lines, then pour ¼ cup of water over the top. It makes the crust extra crispy. Bake for 10 minutes in a well pre-heated, hot oven (425 degrees). Then turn the oven down to 325 degrees, and bake for another 25 – 30 minutes. The outside will be nice and golden brown, and if you tap on the “shell” it will sound hollow inside. Don’t worry, it will be done! Take it out of the oven and let it cool a little on a wire rack before slicing or ripping open – if you can wait! Store in an open plastic bag or it will not remain crispy on the outside.