If you got hit by this latest snow storm as badly as we did here, you probably have soup on your mind. Nothing helps a meatless soup become a full meal quite like a loaf of homemade bread. My current favorite is this recipe from King Arthur Flour. It's easy enough for a bread-baking novice to turn out an impressive loaf, and can come together in as little as two hours (use your microwave as a proofing box to speed things up). The three of us can easily devour an entire warm loaf in the course of a dinner, but if you do have some leftovers, it makes fantastic croutons.
- 1 T (1 packet) active dry yeast
- 1 T sugar
- 1 T salt
- 2 cups warm water (105-110°F)
- 5½ to 6 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
- boiling water
Mix together the first four ingredients. Let stand until the yeast, sugar, and salt are dissolved. Gradually add the flour to the liquid and mix thoroughly until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface to knead.
Knead for five minutes, sprinkling only enough flour on your kneading surface to prevent sticking. Let the dough rest while you scrape out and grease the mixing bowl. Knead the dough again for two to three minutes. Return the dough to the bowl and turn it over once to grease the top. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until the dough doubles in bulk, about one to two hours.
Turn out the dough and cut in half. Shape each half into two Italian- or French-style loaves by flattening into a rectangle and rolling up, pinching the ends to seal. Place the loaves on a cookie sheet generously sprinkled with cornmeal.
Let the loaves rest for 5 minutes. Lightly slash the tops of the loaves three or more times diagonally (a kitchen scissor works well for this) and brush them with cold water. Place on rack in a cold oven with a roasting pan full of boiling water on the bottom rack. Bake at 400°F for 35 to 45 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and sounds hollow to the touch.
For a lighter, crustier bread, let your shaped loaves rise for 45 minutes. Preheat the oven and roasting pan with water to 500°F for 15 minutes. Brush the loaves with cold water, place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 400°F and bake for 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool and devour!