Introduction: How to Bake Easy Bread

Making your own bread can be easy, and it's tastier and definitely cheaper than store-bought. Here's a simple recipe for bread with an overnight rise and minimal kneading.

Mix up a batch of dough one evening, mess with it for ten minutes the next afternoon, then bake. You'll have fresh bread in time for dinner.

Step 1: Ingredients & Supplies

Kitchen supplies:
1 or 2 loaf pans
1 or 2 mixing bowls, with lids or foil to cover
oven (and potholders)

Ingredients for two small loaves of bread:
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/4 tsp instant/active dry yeast
1 1/4 tsp salt
~1 5/8 cups water (can substitute milk/soymilk for part of this)
cornmeal as needed (a pinch or two)

Ingredients for 2/3 recipe, for one larger loaf of bread:
~2 cups AP or bread flour
1/5 tsp yeast
1 tsp salt
~1 cup H2O (can substitute milk/soymilk for part of this)
cornmeal as needed (a pinch or two)

Step 2: Mix the Dough, Let It Rise Overnight

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, yeast, and salt. If you're adding in any other dry ingredients, mix them in at this step. For a savory bread, add in chopped or dry herbs (I'm adding basil to this batch), shredded cheese, chopped olives, curry, or other spices. For a sweet bread, you can add a bit of sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, chopped nuts, whatever else might be tasty.

Add the water & milk/soymilk. (If you're going for a sweeter bread, you can add in a touch of vanilla here.) Stir until well blended. The dough should be sticky and wet.

Cover bowl with lid or plastic wrap. Let dough rise for 12-18 hours at warm room temp (~70F).

Step 3: The Next Day...

After 12-18 hours, check the dough. The surface should be dotted with bubbles, and it should occupy more volume than it did the day before.

Lightly flour your counter or work surface. Place the dough on it -- you'll have to gently scrape it out of the bowl. Sprinkle the top of the dough liberally with more flour, the fold it over on itself once or twice. Form the dough into a ball, then set it seam-side-down back into a clean mixing bowl. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise again for another 1-2 hours. The dough should approximately double in size.

(The New York Times recipe I started with has several more steps here involving covering the dough with plastic wrap, letting it rest for 15 minutes, shaping the dough into a ball, then setting it in a flour-coated dishtowel for the second rise. I don't bother with any of that, and the bread turns out just fine.)

Step 4: Baking

About 30 minutes before the dough is ready, put your empty loaf pan(s) in the oven and set it to 450F.

(Note: the NYT recipe recommends using a "large, heavy covered pot" such as a Dutch oven to bake the bread. If you've got one, use it; I hear it works well. I don't have one, so instead I use regular loaf pans, cover them with foil, and set a shallow dish of water on the bottom rack of the oven.)

When the dough is ready, carefully remove the loaf pan from the oven. (Remeber, they'll be very hot!) Sprinkle a bit of cornmeal on the bottom of the pan; this will keep the loaf from sticking and make it much easier to remove from the pan later.

Carefully tip your dough-ball into the loaf pan, using the spoon to gently release it from the sides of the bowl. You want to keep the little bubbles in the dough intact as much as possible.

Cover the loaf pan with foil (again, using the oven mitts because the loaf pan is hot). Set the loaf pan on the middle rack of the oven, and put an ovensafe dish with 1/2" - 1" of water in it on the lower rack of the oven. (I'm doing this because I'm not using a pot with a heavy lid to keep the moisture close to the bread.)

Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil. If desired, you can brush the surface of the loaf with milk or butter at this point. Bake another 15 to 30 minutes until the crust is well-browned.

Step 5: Mmm Tasty!

Slide a knife around the edge of the pan to release the loaf, then tip the bread out onto a wire rack to cool.

Let it cool for 5-10 minutes. (I never manage more than that, because warm fresh-baked bread with butter is just too good.) Eat, toast, make sandwiches, enjoy!