(makes two one-pound loaves)
This bread truly is child's play to make. A lot of time goes by when you're making it because there are two one-hour periods of rising involved. But the actual amount of time you spend doing something couldn't be more than fifteen minutes. For me, ten minutes, and in an emergency I could cut that back some.
2 cups water
4 cups (roughly) unsifted flour
1 TBSP dry yeast
1 TBSP sugar
1/2 TBSP salt
1. Put two cups of warm water in a big mixing bowl. (Warm means the temperature you'd use for a baby's bottle; warm on the back of your hand, but not hot.)
2. Sprinkle a heaping tablespoon of dry yeast over the water, and then a level tablespoon of sugar.
3. Let that sit a minute or two so the yeast can dissolve and start to bubble; then stir gently. (With a wooden spoon, please.)
4. Stir in two cups (roughly) of all-purpose unsifted flour.
5. Stir briskly till well blended and free of almost all lumps. [At this point it will look like a batter; it's supposed to.]
6. Add one more cup of flour; make a hollow in that flour and add 1/2 tablespoon of salt; then add one more cup of flour on top of that. Mix well. Scrape down the dough that's clinging to the sides of the bowl with a non-metal spatula, to get all the ingredients. The result will be a sticky ball of dough.
7. Put the dough to rise for one hour. I let mine rise in my oven, with the oven light turned on, and I push the bowl right to the back under the light. If it's really cold in your house, turn your oven on -- before putting the bowl inside -- to Warm, or to under 200 degrees if you don't have a Warm setting. (For my stove, that's 170.) Count to ten and turn the oven off again. [Note: If your oven has a pilot light you won't have to do this even in cold weather.]
8. Put the bowl of dough in the oven, just like it is -- no need to cover it or do anything else to it. Close the oven and set the timer for one hour.
9. When the timer goes off, take the bowl of dough out and stir it down with the wooden spoon. Don't turn it out and knead it. Don't try to handle it with your hands at all; it's very sticky.
10. Butter two loaf pans (or spray them with vegetable spray if you don't want to use butter or margarine). I use two glass loaf pans because they seem to me to make a better crust, but metal or silicon pans are okay.
11. Divide the ball of dough in half in the bowl with the wooden spoon and the spatula.
12. Use your spoon and spatula to put one half of the dough into each of the greased baking pans. Don't worry if you can't make the piece of dough fit the pan perfectly; it doesn't matter. A rough fit is fine.
13. If it's cold in your house (unless your oven has a pilot light), turn your oven to Warm again, count to ten; then turn the oven off. Put the pans of dough in the oven, back under the light, and close the oven. Set the timer for one hour. (Longer is okay.)
14. When the timer goes off, open the oven just long enough to position the pans of dough properly. Turn the oven on to 375-400 degrees and set your timer to bake the bread for thirty minutes. (My stove cooks a bit hotter because it uses propane, so I bake it at 375; that may not be quite hot enough for standard gas or electric stoves.)
15. Turn the baked loaves out on a rack to cool. If you're using glass pans, let the loaves cool in the pans for seven minutes before you try to turn them out.
That's it... This bread freezes beautifully and will keep several months in the freezer.
1. If you have a nice warm sunny windowsill where you can put your bread to rise year round, you can of course forget all that business about turning your oven on to Warm and counting to ten. You can also forget about it any time that it's nice and warm in your house.
2. You can of course add raisins and cinnamon and nuts .... or grated cheese ..... or grated cheese and herbs.... or whatever.
3. This recipe is based on a recipe called "Annie's No-Knead French Bread" on page 96 of a useful book called Simple Country Pleasures, edited by Francine Hornberger and published by Friedman/Fairfax in 1998; the ISBN is 1-56799-632-9. Highly recommended if you're into simple country pleasures. I had to do only a tiny bit of tweaking. My children and grandchildren gave me that book, and I read the recipe with interest -- but I'd made bread all my life, and I simply did not believe that it could possibly work, so it was two years before I actually tried it. Two lost years, when I spent far more time and energy making bread that wasn't as good. Calling it "French" bread is a bit of a stretch, but it's an excellent country bread with an excellent flavor and texture.