Circle B Kitchen
Recipe courtesy of King Arthur Flour
This really is perhaps the easiest way to make beautiful homemade bread yet. Make a batch of dough and stick it in the fridge for a few days. When you're ready to make a loaf or two, just grab as much dough as you want and leave the rest to continue to ferment in the refrigerator. The longer it sits, the more flavor it develops! I haven't taken this any longer than 10 days, so beyond that, I'm not sure how the dough will hold up. I suggest you use a scale to measure your ingredients which makes the measuring much more precise (and easier too!).
If measuring by volume:
If using a scale:
24 ounces water (see note below)
Note: If using active dry yeast, use lukewarm water; if using instant yeast, use room temperature water
Combine all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix and stir everything together to make a very sticky, rough dough. If you have a stand mixer, beat at medium speed with the beater blade for 30 to 60 seconds. If you don't have a mixer, just stir-stir-stir with a big spoon or dough whisk until everything is combined.
Cover the bowl, and let the dough rise at room temperature for 2 hours. Then refrigerate it for at least 2 hours, or for up to about 7 days. (If you're pressed for time, skip the room-temperature rise, and stick it right into the fridge). The longer you keep it in the fridge, the tangier it'll get; if you chill it for 7 days, it will taste like sourdough. Over the course of the first day or so, it'll rise, then fall. That's OK; that's what it's supposed to do.
When you're ready to make bread, sprinkle the top of the dough with flour; this will make it easier to grab a hunk. Grease your hands, and pull off about 1/4 to 1/3 of the dough — a 14-ounce to 19-ounce piece, if you have a scale. It'll be about the size of a softball, or a large grapefruit.
Plop the sticky dough onto a floured work surface, and round it into a ball, or a longer log. Don't fuss around trying to make it perfect; just do the best you can. (see note below)
Place the loaf on a piece of parchment (if you're going to use a baking stone); or onto a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Sift a light coating of flour over the top; this will help keep the bread moist as it rests before baking.
Let the loaf warm to room temperature and rise; this should take at least 60 minutes (or longer, up to a couple of hours, if your house is cool - it took a full 2 hours for mine to come to room temperature). It won't appear to rise upwards that much; rather, it'll seem to settle and expand (see note below).
Preheat your oven to 450°F while the loaf rests. If you're using a baking stone, position it on a middle rack while the oven preheats. Place a shallow metal or cast iron pan (not glass, Pyrex, or ceramic) on the lowest oven rack, and have 1 cup of hot water ready to go.
When you're ready to bake, take a sharp knife and slash the bread 2 or 3 times, making a cut about 1/2" deep. The bread may deflate a bit; that's OK, it'll pick right up in the hot oven.
Place the bread in the oven — onto the baking stone, if you're using one, or simply onto a middle rack, if it's on a pan — and carefully pour the 1 cup hot water into the shallow pan on the rack beneath. It'll bubble and steam; close the oven door quickly.
Bake the bread for 25 to 35 minutes, until it's a deep, golden brown. (It took mine closer to 45 minutes to cook in my conventional oven)
Remove the bread from the oven, and cool it on a rack. Store leftover bread in a plastic bag at room temperature.
Note: If making a baguette, you can help it keep its shape while rising by placing a rolled towel under the parchment paper on each side of the baguette. You can refer to the blog post for a pictorial description of this.