The Bread

If you’ve had a holiday season that is in any way comparable to mine, you’ve done nothing but eat bread, pasta, and pretty much anything carb-oriented for the past several weeks. I’m talking pizza, spaghetti, homemade cinnamon rolls, cookies, tarts, quiches … I think you catch my drift. (And if you haven’t had this kind of holiday season and never intend to, go ahead and roll along; I don’t need your negativity, even by omission. I’m joking but also serious. Carbs are life.)

All the breads! Yum! Photo from Betty’s Blog. She can only be another carbophile like myself, I hope.

What I’d like to share with you is a bread recipe that would make unicorns jealous. Like, if angels were bakers, this is the bread they’d sing about. Dare I say it, if I were to have Jesus over for dinner, this is the bread I would serve him—with dipping oil, of course. (And that’s a BIG DEAL seeing as how I subscribe to the belief that He is the Bread of Life.) Yeah. This bread is THAT good. I am now going to refer to it as The Bread because it’s so good.

I stumbled upon this recipe years ago at Anna’s Table, a blog which listed the basic bread recipe I believe would impress Gandhi were he 1) alive and 2) not on a hunger strike. It involves the following simple materials:

1 1/2  C warm water

1/4  tsp. dry yeast

1 1/2  tsp. salt

3  C flour (bread or regular)

THAT’S IT. It’s magical. All you do is mix it together and let it sit for 12-24 hours. Yes, half a day to a full calendar day. Completely alone. A rest nap, if you will. The sleep before the marathon. (OK, OK. I’m done with the metaphors.)

My version of The Bread includes a few changes*, which are:

1 1/2 C warm water

1/4 tsp. dry yeast

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. garlic salt

1 tsp. Italian seasoning (I like this one best)

1 palmful to 1 handful of Italian cheese blend or parmesan (your choice) 

3 C flour (bread or regular)

Mix the ingredients together in a large bowl of which you’ve oiled the bottom and sides (preferably a plastic or porcelain bowl, not metal). Mix until combined well, but not too long; the dough should be stringy. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and secure so it will stay covered, then leave it alone for as long as you like (12-24 hrs). I like to make mine on a Thursday or Friday night and then bake it mid-day the following day, which gives plenty of rest and rise time. (It also makes a mean pizza crust for a large pizza… just fyi.)

A couple of hours before baking, take the dough out of the bowl and place it onto a well-floured pastry towel or thin tea towel. Press it out into a 10 x 10 square, then gather the edges together, flip it over, and form it into a round loaf. Dust the top with flour, cover it with the towel, and then leave it alone to rise for another two hours.

Once ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees if you want a very crusty (harder) outside to the bread or 450 degrees if softer. Place a Dutch oven inside while the oven pre-heats. Once the oven is heated and ready, carefully remove the Dutch oven** and place the loaf inside. Feel free to drizzle it with olive oil and sprinkle with your favorite seasoning before baking. (I often top mine with everything seasoning, which is what I imagine God’s sprinkles would taste like if he made sprinkles***.) Bake with the lid on at 450 degrees for 20 min. After 20 min, remove top of Dutch oven, reduce heat to 375 degrees, and continue baking for 15-20 min.

You can bake longer at either step if you like a crustier bread. I like mine somewhat soft, so I bake mine long enough to not be considered dough and have a golden color but no more. When finished, carefully remove Dutch oven; remove the bread loaf and cool on a wire rack. You can break it open immediately and chow down, but it is rather hot inside so I do recommend waiting at least 15 to 20 minutes. It goes fantastically with soup or dipping oil, and you should mentally prepare yourself to eat at least half the loaf. Heck, go ahead and decide you’re going to eat the whole thing so then you feel less bad about the experience of eating half the loaf. It’s totally worth it.

This bread loaf turns out rather pretty, too, and could make a great gift if wrapped in plastic wrap and covered in a nice, new tea towel tied with twine or ribbon. Pair with a bottle of wine and you’ve got yourself a housewarming gift, new baby reward, or TGIF celebratory carb-fest!

*Feel free to get creative and crazy with your ideas! I’ve made  dark chocolate orange loaf and rosemary parmesan loaf, as well. The Italian loaf is my favorite and I feel it could only be improved if I added in home-roasted garlic cloves after the first rising. This test is for another time, and for now this loaf appeases my appetite (but not my pants, which are more snug by the bite).
**Seriously, be careful. Once I got a little too excited when I went to take out the Dutch oven, put my head in to peak before letting the wave of heat exit the oven, and I swore that my contacts had seared to my eyeballs. Thankfully I was wrong, but it was an awkward moment for a bit while I finished getting the loaf into the oven (because no, eyeball searing is no excuse to quit baking bread mid-recipe—play like a champion, and eat like one too!).
***Jesus forgive me for my references to you which involve food. May you not consider them blasphemous but rather a compliment to the amount of bread which I hope to ingest in your presence one day, forever and ever, Amen.

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