This recipe takes only a few minutes. It requires NO kneading. And it's almost impossible to mess up.
The bread is deliciously chewy and bubbly in the inside, with a thick, crackly crust. It keeps well for several days wrapped in a kitchen towel or linen bread bag.
You don't need to be around for 3-4 hours to make this bread. It takes maybe one minute to mix the night before or, in a pinch, first thing in the morning. Then, when you're ready to bake the bread, another minute to form the loaves. And no waiting for the bread to rise: as soon as the oven is hot, the bread is ready to bake!
How does it work? I theorize that it's a combination of a wet dough, a long fermentation (hence the small amount of yeast), and the steam created in the oven. Instead of creating gluten strands by kneading the dough, you simply let the gluten form by itself during the long overnight rise. The amazing crust develops as the wet dough and the steam on the outside work their magic. And, because of the long rise, you get a more complex flavor--not as strong as a true sourdough, but much better than conventional homemade bread.
Here's how to make my bread:
- 3 cups water
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 1 tsp yeast (if you're in a hurry, or if your yeast seems a bit weak, you can use 2 tsp)
- 6 - 6.5 cups flour (you can use up to 3.5 cups whole grain flour. If so, you'll use a total of around 6 cups. If you use all white flour, you'll need to increase it to 6.5 cups, depending on the humidity and type of flour)
- 2 cups water
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp yeast
- 5 - 5.5 cups flour (I use whatever flour is available, usually type 45 or 55. I usually end up with 5 1/4 cups of white flour, less if I'm using some whole grain flour)
Why the different recipes? I'm not sure, except these are the proportions that have worked for me in the States and in France. It's probably due to the difference in humidity, atmospheric pressure, and types of flour.
Step 1: Mix the dough the night before
Choose a large container with a lid. Mix together the ingredients until you have a wet, sticky dough. No wetter than this: see how it looks almost shaggy? It needs a bit more flour
I added at least 1/4 cup more flour. This dough pictured below is perfect. It holds its shape in the bowl, but when you pinch it, it comes away very sticky. If the dough is dry enough to knead, you've added too much flour. You should NOT be able to knead it!
Step 2: Cover and let rise overnight
* Accelerated version: put the dough in a warmed oven and let rise 4-8 hours, until it's ready. I often do this in the morning if I've forgotten to make the dough the night before.
Step 3: The dough is ready when it looks like bubbly pancake batter
Normally this would be the next day. It's typically ready in the morning unless your house is very cold. You can bake your bread any time during the day.
Step 4: Time to bake bread! Turn the oven on to 450 F or 230 C
Put an old pan on the bottom rack of the oven. This will be where you pour water so the loaves cook in a steam oven. It will get lots of mineral deposits, so don't use a nice pan!
Step 5: Sprinkle generously with flour and gently scoop the dough away from the sides
I probably use between 1/4 - 1/2 cup. You'll want lots of flour because the dough is VERY sticky.
Try to leave as many of the air bubbles intact.
Step 6: Form the loaves on parchment paper or a silicone baking mat
The key is to handle the dough as little as possible. The more air bubbles you leave, the better the end result. I usually tuck the loaves under 2-3 times and that's it.
If you're making baguettes, let the bread dangle as you tuck, as I'm doing in this photo.
You can either put the parchment/silicone on a flat baking sheet and put the combination in the oven. Or if you have a pizza stone warming in the oven, slide the parchment/silicone onto the stone when it's ready to bake.
Step 7: Sprinkle generously with flour and wait for the oven to reach full temperature
The loaves are ready to bake once the oven is hot.
If you forget about your bread, it can rise for up to 2 hours and still turn out fine. I've done this many times :) If the loaves have flattened out too much, gently tuck them under once. You really can't mess this bread up!
Step 8: Right before putting the bread in the oven, slash loaves with a serrated knife.
Diagonal, criss-cross, X, concentric rings....whatever you like
Step 9: Pour a glass of water into the old pan on the bottom rack.
Step 10: Bake for 35 minutes
The loaves will rise a lot as they bake, so don't be worried if they look funny, lumpy, or small when they go in the oven.
Step 11: Eat. Preferably hot. With lots of butter.