Unbelievably Easy Artisan Bread

My mother has always been an incredible bread baker. Ever since I was little, the house has been stocked with warm, delicious, perfect loaves of homemade bread.  She often throws the dough in the bread machine to knead, but bakes beautiful loaves that look like they could be from any professional bakery. 

I'd tried to make bread on my own a few times in high school, but I used the bread machine to knead the dough. In Batten (the co-op where I live), there is no bread machine.  Kneading dough by hand, while a respectable project, was not something I could fit into my busy academic schedule...

My mom and my friend Renee both recommended Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I bought yeast, and one Monday evening I tried out the recipe. 

The Master Recipe (from the website of the authors)

3 cups lukewarm water (you can use cold water, but it will take the dough longer to rise. Just don’t use hot water or you may kill the yeast)
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast ( you can use any kind of yeast including: instant, rapid rise, bread machine, active dry.)
1 1/2 tablespoons Morton’s Kosher Sal(use less salt to suit your taste or eliminate it all together. Find more information here.)
6 1/2 cups (2-pounds) unbleached all-purpose flour (we tested the recipes with Gold Medal and Pillsbury flour. If you use King Arthur or other high protein flour check here.)

Mix together the water and yeast in a large bowl. Add the salt and the flour and mix (you can use a Cuisinart equipped with a dough paddle, a wooden spoon, or just your hands!). Cover the bowl with a plate (so it's not airtight), and let the dough rise for a few hours. Shape the loaf, and place on a pan lightly greased with olive oil (my method doesn't use a baking stone). Let the loaf rise in its shape for a bit.

The perfect crust is difficult to achieve in a normal oven, especially without a baking stone (which, as poor college students, we are lacking in!).  The authors of the bread cookbook recommend making a steam oven by placing a pan of water on the shelf below the bread.  Looking at the pans on the shelf, I noticed an old industrial sized muffin tin (most likely a hand-me-down from the dining hall to our dorm).  It fit perfectly across the bottom of the oven.  I filled up the muffin tin with water, and preheated the oven to 550ยบ. When the oven was preheated, I put the muffin tan on the bottom rack with the next rack just above it.

I then placed the loaf inside the oven, and baked for 15-20 minutes. Let the loaf cool (if you can wait) for 5 minutes before serving.

The result of my first loaf? The crumb was perfect, the crust delicious. And it's so, so unbelievably easy.  I'm addicted.

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