the easiest and tastiest bread you’ll ever make ::::
Why did I forget my salad downstairs? I am sitting in a lunch meeting, lamenting my provided-for cafeteria salad. The romaine is drab and wilted. The chicken breast is, well, pointless. The salad dressing is low-quality mayonnaise (maybe a “low-fat” concoction of chemicals and egg yolk replacements?) and nothing else. And the crouton, the croutons!, where do I start? Chewy and spongy, they turn me off immediately. I am barely listening to the meeting moderator, so distracted by the realization that I have the best, perfectly seasoned, deafeningly-crunchy croutons, in my office downstairs, waiting to be sprinkled liberally on my from-home kale salad mingled with edamame, dried cherries, and almonds. If I could, I’d march right back down to my real salad and enjoy my lunch hour a little more.
And so that leads me to today’s recipe. This is the ever-so-slightly rearranged version of the food blog favorite no-knead bread from Jim Lahey, founder of the Sullivan Street Bakery, made popular by Mark Bittman from the NY Times. I make this bread often, changing the flours for variation and sometimes adding nuts and seeds. It is a never fail recipe, save for the crust that gets stuck to the bottom of your cast-iron pot if there isn’t enough flour or parchment paper to prevent it. If you don’t eat it all the day of baking, day-old bread is great toasted and even better days later as the crunchiest croutons you’ll ever eat. I’m ready to redeem my office lunch with a loud crunchy bite, disrupting the next meeting for sure.
- 3 cups bread flour*
- ¼ teaspoon yeast**
- 1½ cups warm water. Variations include warm tea (my favorite) or coffee for a subtle flavor change.
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt (or 1 teaspoon table salt)
- ⅓ cup pepitas, toasted, and a little more for sprinkling on top of loaf before baking***
- If also making croutons: olive oil to cover skillet
- salt, pepper, any other desired seasonings
- Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl (it will be sticky and messy), cover with plastic wrap, and allow to sit on your countertop for 12 to 20 hours. It should bubble and rise over this time period. If you feel your kitchen ambient temperature is a bit cool, wrap the bowl in a cozy towel during the rise time.
- Remove dough from bowl onto well-floured surface (or sometimes I just transfer to a well-floured bowl) and nudge into a semi-ball shape. Allow to rise again for 2 hours in the bowl, covered and in a draft-free place. When you have about 30 minutes left of the rise, preheat your oven to 450 degrees F and put your covered cast-iron pot (or equivalent) into the oven. Remember to preheat the pot with its cover ON.
- Before you place the pot in the oven, cut a piece of parchment to fit the bottom. Set aside until you transfer the bread into the preheated pot.****
- When the bread has risen and pot is preheated, wobble dough into pot, shake gently to even out, sprinkle with pepitas (or other seeds) and bake for 30 minutes covered.
- After 30 minutes, remove the cover and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown, sound hollow when tapped, and equal about 210 degrees F internal temperature (I actually rarely test this temp on this recipe, and find that I haven't over- or under-baked a single loaf.)
- Allow to cool some before slicing and serving. I love eating this bread fresh with expensive or homemade butter and pink seasalt.
- CROUTON RECIPE FOR DAY-OLD OR OLDER BREAD: Dry out your pepita bread for a day and slice and cube into bite-sized pieces. Did you forget about your bread for more than a day? Another 1-2 days of drying works too, and your croutons will be more crunchy.
- Warm up a splash of olive oil in hot pan to shimmering. (You can also use a mixture of butter and olive oil to crisp up the croutons. Butter itself is okay but may burn more quickly.)
- Put cubed bread in one layer (you may need to do this in multiple batches -- and add more olive oil each time if needed) in hot pan, salting the bread a bit. Leave to cook until the cubes start to brown on one of their sides, then roll pieces around to brown other sides. Season with salt and pepper (or any other seasonings) to taste. Do this before the croutons are totally cool, as the salt /seasonings stick to the hot/warm croutons better.
- Allow to cool completely before using in salad. The croutons keep at room temperature in a tightly-lidded container for a few days, as crisp as the first day.