I’m nearly three months into living with my father in law, and my biggest struggles have been laundry and food. That one extra person pushed us over into an extra load each day, and an extra pan of whatever for dinner. Trying to figure out the quantities was killing me! I was so stressed about making meals, but I’ve finally figured out how to feed this large family without making enormous amounts of expensive foods.
My not-so-secret secret?
Bread. And sometimes salad, but, mostly – bread.
I make this simple artisan bread almost every day. It makes two loaves, and, often, we just eat one, leaving the other for the next day’s breakfast or dinner. But some days, we eat both, and that’s okay. It’s extremely inexpensive to make, and very quick, too. Well, maybe not time-wise, but hands-on time? Practically nil.
3 cups warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
6-ish cups of all purpose flour
Pour the water into a large bowl, then sprinkle the salt and yeast over the surface. Give it just a minute to hydrate, then stir into the water. Dump the flour into the bowl and stir till all the flour is moistened.
You can use it really wet and shaggy, but I like it to be a soft, only slightly sticky dough for easier handling later, so I knead the dough in its bowl just briefly, adding more flour if needed, to get the right consistency. Let it rest for 30-60 minutes, till it’s starting to look risen and puffy. It doesn’t have to double, and it won’t matter if you get busy and it quadruples. It’s very forgiving.
Sprinkle your work surface with flour and scrape the dough out of the bowl. Try not to squish it too much. If it’s very sticky still, you can sprinkle the dough with a bit of flour so you can work it. Cut it into two equal pieces.
If you have a helper, make sure she doesn’t eat all the dough while you’re fetching equipment, washing dishes, or snapping photos. We have a real problem with that around here.
Stand a dough half on its rounded edge and press it quickly into an oblong shape, folding the pointy corners in for tidiness. You want to handle it as little as possible.Roll it up and stretch it gently into a log shape no bigger than the pan you plan to cook it on. Have the pan handy, because the loaf always looks much shorter on the counter! Do the same with the other dough half. The pan I’m using is gloriously non-stick. If you are using a lesser pan, make sure it’s liberally covered with corn flour. This dough tends to stick like you would not believe. It’s time to get the oven ready now. Put one rack on the lowest setting and one rack in the middle of the oven. Place a metal pan you don’t care much about on the bottom rack and preheat to 450°. (Don’t use glass; it might shatter later! I use an old cookie sheet, but that worthless broiler pan that comes with the oven will work, too.)Meanwhile, use a sharp knife or razor blade to score the loaves. Your bread won’t look like it’s risen at all when you put it in the oven, but don’t worry about it. Have a cup of hot tap water ready. As soon as the oven is preheated, put the bread onto the middle rack, pour the hot water quickly into the hot pan on the bottom rack, avoid getting burned by the steam, and shut the door! Alternately, you can probably spritz the oven and bread with water from a spray bottle. I like the drama of the hot pan, though.
Thirty minutes later, you have yourself an impressive loaf of crusty french-style bread. The leftover loaf can be refreshed tomorrow simply by tossing it in a 350° for ten minutes, and it makes the most fabulous garlic bread. More importantly, if you’re feeding a crowd, it’ll save your bacon. Or roast. Or casserole. And your food budget, too.
It’s like magic.
And here are the links to my favorite bread-making things on Amazon. These are affiliate links, so I’ll get a small commission if you purchase anything, and I thank you in advance. 🙂
USA Pan 8 x 16 Inch 2-Well Perforated Italian Loaf Pan: I have never greased or floured this pan, and my bread slides right off every time. In fact, I have to be careful pulling it out of the oven, lest my loaves fly off before I’m ready! And the non-stick coating is non-toxic.
Danish Dough Whisk: This thing is not strictly necessary – a spoon will do the job, too – but it’s kind of fun and fancy and worth a little splurge. I use it all the time.
Dough Scraper: Mine has King Arthur Flour stamped on one side, which instantly increases the price to $20, but this is a really useful kitchen tool, too. Before I had one, I used a pancake flipper without incident. 😉