I like all kinds of breads. I keep a loaf of sweet tender country crust bread in my freezer to use for sandwiches and toast (with cheddar and Marmite, yum), and of course I love a really great loaf of artisanal French or Italian bread. This bread is neither of those. It’s just a very simple loaf of regular bread – no added flavoring ingredients like sugar or butter, and no overnight pre-ferment to coax the natural sweetness out of the flour. It’s exactly what the name implies – ordinary bread.
And that’s okay. Because ordinary bread, eaten fresh from the oven or toasted and made into panzanella, can certainly be extraordinary.
This bread is as flavorful as a rustic bread that’s ready in just a few hours can be. Although there is no overnight pre-ferment, there is a 20-minute “sponge” rest that improves flavor and texture. Other than that step, this is a very standard bread recipe – mix, knead, rise, shape, rise, bake, cool.
While I love Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno’s Ultimate Bread, especially for the beautiful photos that inspire me to get baking, their methods differ from what I’m used to, and frankly, I like my normal method better. For example, Treuille and Ferrigno usually recommend adding all of the flour and then adding small amounts of liquid to get the correct consistency. Most recipes instruct the reverse – add all of the liquid and then add flour until the right consistency is achieved. I prefer the latter method because I find that flour is easier to incorporate into the dough than liquid is.
If you want some very good bread with dinner and you don’t want to think about it days in advance, this recipe is perfect. I think it is also a great recipe for an inexperienced bread baker. There’s nothing complicated here, but the end result shows how great homemade bread can be.
Update 3/16/10: I’ve successfully used this method to make this bread whole wheat. Complete instructions for adapting this recipe are included in that post.
Pain Ordinaire (adapted from Ultimate Bread, by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno)
Feel free to play with the recipe. Either bread flour (which I think is what I used) or all-purpose will work, and you can substitute about a quarter of that with whole wheat or even rye flour. You can replace half of the water with buttermilk or milk. You can make the loaf any shape you want. It fits in a loaf pan and it can be made into rolls.
3½ cups (17½ ounces) unbleached flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1⅓ cup water, room temperature
1½ teaspoon salt
1. Stir the yeast into 1¾ cup (8¾ ounces) of the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add all of the water, stirring until it forms a smooth, sticky batter (like pancake batter). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for approximately 20 minutes, or until the mixture becomes frothy, loose, and slightly expanded.
2. Add the remaining flour and the salt to the mixture. Stir (or mix on medium-low speed with the hook attachment) for 1 minute, or until the ingredients form a ball.
3. Lightly dust the counter with flour, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook). Knead for about 10 minutes (6 minutes by machine), adding flour, if needed, to make a dough that is smooth, shiny, and elastic.
4. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1½ to 2 hours. Press to deflate, then let rest for 10 minutes.
5. Gently pat the dough into a rough rectangle. Fold the bottom third of dough, letter style, up to the center and press to seal, creasing surface tension on the outer edge. Fold the remaining dough over the top and use the edge of your hand to seal the seam closed and to increase the surface tension all over. Press evenly with the palms of both hands and roll the dough backward and forward until it is 14 inches in length. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Place the loaf on the pan and lightly dust with flour. Cover loosely with plastic wrap.
6. Proof at room temperature for about 1 hour, or until the loaves have grown to about twice their original size.
7. About half an hour into the second rise, place a baking stone* on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
8. Using a very sharp knife or a serrated bread knife, cut 5 diagonal slashes, each about ¼ to ½-inch deep, across the top of the loaf. (Alternatively, cut one long slash that extends for the length of the loaf.)
9. Transfer the dough on the parchment paper to a peel or the back of a sheet pan. Transfer the dough to the baking stone. Close the oven and reduce the temperature to 450 degrees. Bake until golden brown and the temperature is at least 200 degrees** at the center.
10. Transfer the loaves to a cooling rack and cool for at least 1 hour before slicing and serving.
*If you don’t have a baking stone, simply bake the loaf on a baking sheet at 425 degrees for 45 minutes.
**If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, tap the bottom of the hot baked loaf. It should sound hollow when the bread is done baking.