A Loaf of Love

A Superbly Crusty Rustic Loaf of Homemade Bread

Years ago, I fell hard for the romantic notion of rolling up my sleeves and kneading balls of dough until soft and supple, before carefully shaping them into loaves and letting them rise. In my fantasy, I wore a perfectly starched white apron, resistant to both wrinkles and stains, and had but a few delicate traces of flour on my face, which along with my expert baking skills, would only add to my allure.

Of course, like any fantasy acted upon, the real life version had very little resemblance to the narrative I concocted in my head and was costly and messy.

Sure; I baked loaves of bread, but they were heavy and leaden, more suitable for anchoring small watercraft than slicing and slathering with butter.

I never knew how long to knead the overly sticky dough, or how much flour to use, and I had little dexterity to manage multiple tasks at once, especially in maneuvering the flour onto my work surface. The result--flour everywhere and instead of delicate traces on my face, I would be covered in a thin white film only made worse by trying to dust it off with my sticky hands.

It took very few attempts before I was ready to throw in the towel and drive to the bakery one block over, restoring both order and happiness to my kitchen.

But then, several years ago, while writing an article about sourdough bread, I decided to give bread a second chance. Actually, there was little choice; I had a sourdough starter going and it was a living breathing entity that grew by the feeding and had to do something else with it other than make pancakes and waffles.

Through desperation and a great deal of research I discovered a bread making technique that not only served me well during my sourdough days, but that I eventually morphed into a twice weekly bread baking habit.

Here's a recipe for a loaf that's almost hands off, requires little skill, and makes for the most amazing toast--perfectly crisp, almost flaky, and pure heaven when slathered with butter and good jam.

This recipe is a slight variation of Jim Lahey's recipe for no knead bread--the most popular recipe ever published in the New York Times. Unlike the original recipe, I don't measure my ingredients, I add more yeast, olive oil, and I bake at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time.

Rustic Olive Oil Loaf

3 cups King Arthur Bread Flour
1 and 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
1 and 3/4 cups room temperature water
1 T. good olive oil

1. Mix all ingredients together until you have a shaggy dough.
2. Cover with plastic wrap and put in a warm spot (I use my microwave) to rest, undisturbed, for 12 hours.
3. Remove plastic wrap and lightly flour the surface with bread flour.
4. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the dough from the sides of the bowl and make into a ball--the dough is extremely sticky.
5. Lightly flour a flexible plastic cutting board and turn dough out.
6. Sprinkle with flour and gently pat out into a rectangle.
7. Tear off a sheet of parchment paper and place onto the dough and then top with a second flexible plastic cutting board and flip over, so that the rectangle is on the parchment paper.
8. Sprinkle with a bit more flour and pat out again into a rectangle and then fold the longer edges into the middle and then the shorter edges to the middle, as well.
9. Lift the parchment paper by the corners and put into a glass bowl.
10. Gently smooth about 2 teaspoons of olive oil over the top of the dough and loosely cover with plastic wrap; put back into a warm place to rise again.
11. The second rise will take about 90 minutes.
12. Put a 5 quart cast iron Dutch oven with the lid on into your oven and heat to 350 degrees.
13. After an hour, increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees; you should allow the oven to heat at this temperature for 30 minutes.
14. When the bread has completed the second rise it's ready to bake.
15. Open the oven and carefully remove the lid from the cast iron pot and lifting the dough out of the rise bowl by the corners of parchment paper, place the dough into the pot and cover with the lid.
16. Allow the bread to bake for 30 minutes--no peeking.
17. After 30 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees and remove the lid from the pot.
18. Bake until the crust is golden and when knocked, sounds hollow--about 10 to 12 minutes.
19. Let cool before cutting.
20. Store on the counter top in a brown bag, slicing as needed.

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