You don't need fancy equipment or special ingredients to make a good loaf of bread. This recipe proves it. It's probably the simplest bread I've ever made, in terms of ingredients, equipment, and the amount of work required.
If you've never made a loaf of bread before, this could be the gateway bread to lead you into the wonderful world of yeasty things.
If you've made plenty of breads, this recipe could be the one you keep in the back of your mind for the times you want something that doesn't require a lot of thought and very little of your time.
I've seen this type of bread sold as a "Farmhouse Loaf," so if you want to name it when you serve it, that would be an appropriate. This bread is simple, unfussy, and rustic, but it's also very tasty. And it proves that bread doesn't have to be difficult or intimidating.
One key to making a good loaf of bread is developing the gluten which forms the network that holds in the lovely bubbles that allow the bread to rise. Gluten develops as you knead, but it also develops over time, which is why no-knead bread works.
This bread straddles those two worlds, with the gluten developing without much labor, but it also allows you to feel the dough and work with it a little bit, rather than emphasizing the hands-off philosophy of the no-knead method.
If you're enjoying the kneading process, you can knead a little longer. It's not going to hurt anything. If you're not that interested in kneading, you can do the minimum required to mix and shape and it will still work just fine.
While many bread recipes specify bread flour, this one asks for all purpose flour, because it's more likely to be in everyone's pantry. If you have bread flour, feel free to use it, if you prefer. If you don't have a loaf pan, this bread would bake nicely as a free-form loaf on a sheet pan as well. See? No fancy equipment required at all.
The Simplest White Bread Ever
2 1/2 cups (11 1/4 oz) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 cup lukewarm water
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
Add the sugar and yeast to the water in your measuring cup and stir to combine. If you're using anything except an instant yeast, let it sit for 5-10 minutes, or until the mixture is lively and bubbly. If it's instant yeast, you can continue without proofing, or let it proof to ease your mind that the yeast is alive - your choice.
Put the flour and salt into a medium bowl, and stir to distribute salt.
Add the water/yeast mixture to the the bowl with the flour, and stir to combine all the ingredients.
Sprinkle some flour on your countertop and dump the dough mixture onto the counter. Knead for a minute or two, adding flour as necessary to keep it from sticking. You don't need to knead until the dough is stretchy and elastic - just knead until it's a nice cohesive mixture and not a lumpy, sticky, blobby mess. Form it into a ball.
Drizzle the olive oil into a zip-top bag and plop the dough into the bag. Make sure the dough is completely coated with olive oil, zip the top, and stash it in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, take the bag out of the fridge and massage it a bit, still in the bag, to mash out all the bubbles in the dough. You may need to open the bag to let the air out, but reseal it after.
Leave the bag on the countertop until the dough has come to room temperature, about an hour. It will rise and expand a bit during that time.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle some cornmeal on the bottom of a loaf pan.
Sprinkle some flour on your countertop, and dump the dough onto the counter. You don't need to squeeze every bit of olive oil out of the bag, but don't try to hold it back, either.
Knead and fold it a bit to incorporate the olive oil into the dough, then form the dough into a log that will fit into your loaf pan.
Put the loaf into the pan, cover the pan with plastic wrap, and let it rise until it has at least doubled in size. I used an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 pan and let it rise until it was slightly higher than the pan.
Remove the plastic wrap and slash the top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
Let it rest in the pan for about 5 minutes, then place it on a rack to cool completely before slicing.
Cookbook author and food writer for Serious Eats, Whisk Magazine, and the Left Hand Valley Courier, among others. Columnist at American Recycler. Blogger at www.cookistry.com and reviews.cookistry.com.