Over the course of my writing career, I’ve tried to do some of the chores I have given to my heroines, mostly for the sake of authentic experience. Since I write historical novels, those tasks can involve things necessary to basic existence 100 or 150 years ago. I’ve tasted brandy (cheap stuff that accounted for its resemblance to kerosene, so it really was a chore), baked bread, made candles, canned tomatoes and raspberry jam, tried to churn homemade butter, and a few other things. For some of you, this is no big deal—canning, keeping chickens, baking bread, making soap, etc., are part of a lot of people’s lives even now. But I was a city kid, raised by a busy single mother who worked outside the home. My grandmother taught me to sew and crochet, and I learned to cook in home economics and by experimentation. I’m a pretty good cook, and Mom says the tuna-noodle I’ve been making for the past four decades is her ideal comfort food.
A couple of years ago I came across a recipe for no-knead bread in The Oregonian. There are dozens of recipes for easy breads, but all of the others I’ve found require a minimum 18-hour rise. That takes some planning. The recipe I found was a variation and, I think, a great improvement of the original idea. This bread will rise in four hours, produce a beautiful artisan loaf with a lightly crisp crust, and is so simple and easy, even non-bakers will have no trouble with it. Give it a try and let me know how it goes! (When fall sets in, I’ll give you a fabulous soup recipe to go with it.)
Fast No-Knead White Bread
(Makes 1 big artisan loaf)
3 cups bread flour (if you weigh instead of measure, 15 ounces)
1 packet instant yeast
1-1/2 teaspoons salt (I use kosher)
1-1/2 cups water
— Oil as needed (I use olive oil)
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, yeast and salt. Add the water and stir until blended; dough will be soft and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rise about 4 hours at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.*
Lightly oil a work surface and your hands; put dough on the work surface and fold it over a couple of times. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise 30 minutes.
Immediately pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic**) in the over as it heats. When the dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Oil your hands again and put the dough into the pot. Shake pot once or twice to evenly distribute the dough.
Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake another 10-20 minutes (oven temperatures vary so use your judgment), until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
*I put my dough in the microwave (DON’T turn it on). It’s a warm, draft-free place.
**I use a cast-iron dutch oven or a ceramic lined iron dutch oven.
This bread is great with butter, dipping oil, or plain. If you have any left over you can make some killer croutons. Bon appetit!