I’ve found that the best way to battle the Polar Vortex of 2014 is to use the oven to do a lot of baking. (When did they change the terminology from “cold snap” to “polar vortex”? Nevermind.)
I have adapted this recipe from one I found on the Gold Medal flour bag (from The New Artisan Bread). It’s the easiest bread recipe I have ever come across, and it reminds of me the pain rustique – crusty, chewy country loaves – that I used to find in the boulangeries in Paris.
Not only will the heat from the oven warm up your house, but the scent of baking bread – aah! Words will never be adequate to describe the luscious smell of freshly baked bread.
Yield: 4 loaves
3 cups water
1 package dry yeast
1 tablespoon salt
6 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
enough extra flour for dusting work surface and loaves
2 cups water (for moisture during baking)
In a large mixing bowl, mix water, yeast, and salt. Add all of the flour and stir until all of the flour is moist. You will have a nice, sticky hunk of dough.
Cover with a dish towel and store at room temperature for 2 hours to rise.
Dust a chopping block or cutting board generously with flour. Dust your hands with flour and separate the dough from the bowl. Pinch the dough in the center to form two loaves; then pinch each half again to form a total of four loaves.
Place the first loaf on your work surface, and gently make a ball. Then fold the ends of the loaf into the center of the loaf four time, creating a square.
Flip the loaf over. The turned edges will bake into a smooth underside.
Cover with the dish towel and let rise for another hour. After the first thirty minutes, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place your baking sheet or dishes on the center rack so that they preheat with the oven.
Dust the surface of the loaves liberally with flour, and score an “x” across the top with a serrated knife.
Carefully slide them onto the baking dishes (already in the oven). I used two Pyrex pizza pans. Place two cups of water in a pan beneath the loaves.
Bake at 450 degrees for 25-30 minutes. The crust will be a golden brown and hard to the touch.
Remove from the oven and allow to completely cool.
Stay warm, my friends!