Sunday, February 5, 2017

Easiest Home Baked Bread Recipe EVER!

There's a way to get fabulous results- and a piping hot loaf of fresh bread in about an hour or so on a weeknight. All it takes is a little planning and some space in the refrigerator and you'll be able to have steaming loaves on the table in no time. The secret to this recipe is that yeast dough benefits from a slow rise in the refrigerator, so when it's time to cut some dough to form and bake a loaf, all you have to do is preheat the oven, weigh out the dough, form a loaf and let it get it's second rise warming to room temperature before putting it in the oven to bake.

I've baked bread for decades now, and I've always loved the process. My mother was a tremendous baker and some of my fondest memories are of the loaves she baked. Wheat, rye, crusty Italian loaves as well as her cinnamon swirl which we enjoyed at the holidays. There is something cathartic for me in bread making. In a busy life the dough forces me to slow down, to move at the speed of the bread - mix, knead, rise, form and bake. It won't be rushed. 

But, there is another way which I feel will give you great results and only takes about 30 minutes to get the dough banged out. So let's get to it! 

First, some tricks of the trade. Sifting flour is a messy, cumbersome waste of time. Professional bakers weigh all their ingredients, rarely sifting them. So what can the home baker do? Use a scoop and shake the flour into the measuring cup, then using the flat edge of a spatula or kitchen spoon sweep off the excess on the measuring cup. Why, you ask? Because if we use the measuring cup to scoop out the flour, it's going to pack it into the cup and you'll end up using more flour than you need, leading to denser, dryer loaves. If you want to go a step further- figure out what a cup of flour weighs in your neck of the woods or use this handy chart (I use a kitchen scale set to grams for easier division and multiplication of recipes) then all you need do is put your bowl on the scale, zero it out and dump the flour in until you get the amount you need. 

Quick and Easy Refrigerator Rise Bread Dough (makes 4- 1 lb. loaves)

6-7 cups All-Purpose Flour 
1 Pkg (2 1/4 tsp.) Active Dry Yeast
1 Tbsp Salt (I prefer kosher, and round it since it's coarser)
3 cups warm water (90-105 degrees)

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer add 6 cups of flour, the yeast and salt. Stir them together until combined. Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to dissolve the yeast in water, it will dissolve as the dough is formed. Attach the dough hook to the stand mixer, and with it turned to low, add the warm water. If you're going the traditional way, add the water and mix with a wooden spoon. Keep mixing until all of the flour is incorporated. Keep adding a little more at a time until the dough begins to pull away from the sides.

The dough should be wet and sticky (see the photo below) - the flour hasn't yet had the chance to hydrate. Now transfer the dough into a container large enough to allow it to double in size.

I use a large plastic container with a lid- just leave the lid loosely covering the dough as we want to give the CO2 produced by the yeast somewhere to escape! Leave the dough on the counter top for an hour then transfer to the refrigerator.
After about an hour, the dough will have doubled in size- you can either divide out a pound or two and bake some loaves straightaway, or degass-which is a fancy way of saying to gently push the dough back down and return it to the refrigerator. When you're ready to make a loaf, it's as easy as cutting the desired amount- usually about a pound, forming it into a loaf and baking. There are all sorts of tools and gadgets you can use to help deal with wet, sticky dough- one of my favorites is this little blue plastic scraper. It allows me to manipulate the dough without it sticking all to my fingers and hands. Also, dusting with flour helps to keep the dough in check.  

There are lots of different shapes your loaf can take- for this one, I went with a simple boule, or round loaf. If you want a baguette, you'll form a rectangle from the dough and roll it up on itself pinching the bottom seam. For a loaf, do basically the same as for the baguette, but fold the ends in an inch or two to get squared edges and place the loaf in a greased loaf pan. It's easy and your options are pretty unlimited. Braided loaves can easily be made by dividing the dough into thirds, rolling out ropes and braiding them together- pinching at the ends to seal them. Use your imagination!

Now for the boule, all I did was lightly dust the top of the loaf with flour to keep my hands from sticking, then begin to turn the edges under and into the center, degassing and tightening the ball. (I hate picking dough out of my rings, so I always try to remember to take them off before working with it!)

Once you've got a nice little ball, set it on your baking sheet covered with parchment paper and start preheating the oven to 400 degrees. I know that sounds hot- and it should be- this is bread, not a cake. Also, place a metal jelly roll pan or some other pan with a side that we're going to put water in to create steam during the first few minutes of the bake. Just before baking, use a sharp or serrated knife to cut a crosshatch in the top to allow for expansion.

Have about 3/4 cup hot water ready to pour carefully into the pan after you slide the loaf in. BE CAREFUL!!! Steam can burn you very badly. So here's the sequence you want to follow: 1. Have the hot water ready on the stove top in a container that you can pour from; 2. Open the oven door and place the loaf on the middle rack; 3. Pour the water through the middle rack into the pan below, watching as the steam rises; 4. Close the door and let it bake. We want to trap the steam inside, to provide humidity for the dough, so move quickly but carefully. I've found that pouring onto the pan from above is easier and quicker than trying to slide the rack in and out. Alternatively, you can use a half dozen or so ice cubes that you can toss onto the tray.

Bake about 30-35 minutes until golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. I usually use a probe thermometer to check the internal temperature of the bread and pull it when it hits 180 degrees. Some bakers pull their loaves a little cooler, but I've always been able to remember 180, so that works for me. Now comes the hardest part... waiting.

You're going to be tempted to cut straight into that beautiful loaf, slather it with butter and homemade jam... but if you do all the steam (read moisture) inside the crumb is going to escape, leaving you with a loaf which is denser when cool. So let it rest for 10 minutes or so before cutting into it. I promise it'll still be plenty hot and delicious!

   Bon Appetit!


  1. Ahh a recipe I hopefully can't get wrong and turn into Dwarven Battle Bread! I'll be trying this one out for sure!

  2. Emma- You're going to LOVE this recipe! You're going to crush this recipe- it's really that easy!