I’m not saying it’s the best smell in the world, but when this crazy train of life comes to its last stop and I reach my promised land – if such a place exists – I hope my final destination smells like a really, really good bakery.
It’s been years, but I still remember the afternoon I first walked into a beloved, local mom-and-pop bakery to pick up a cookie order. The second I entered, it was like a big hug to my soul – all in one whiff – delivered in a rapture of baked bread and confectioners’ sugar.
Now, I’m not saying every bakery smells like this one did, but standing in line that day, I was ready to ditch my thankless 9 to 5 job and my institutional gray office with its view of a strip mall parking lot, and don an apron instead. That’s how good it smelled. So long, I thought, worker-bee-cog-in-the-machine life.
At the time, I didn’t even bake.
But I daydreamed of that kitchen, inhaling bliss – a glad, uncomplicated life of flour and sugar, and pulling trays of golden, puffed treasure from warm ovens.
I mean, think about it. Even the phrase, a little slice of heaven, is a nod to delicacies like baked pie and bread, and for good reason. If you bake or are lucky enough to live in a home where someone bakes, you know the happiness of those aromas – the fresh loaves, the tray of cookies, the rolls, the salted pretzels, the fluffy cakes, the warm, gooey pies.
But it’s the smell of fresh bread that I love the most. I think it’s a love affair I’ll be having for years to come, and I’ve started this romance by mastering the simple, rustic loaf.
It’s a classic, no-knead recipe I’ve adapted from the Jim Lahey method. This loaf features honey powder and butter. The result is a subtly sweet bread that bakes to easy imperfection, full of crags and crusted dark spots. But the real beauty is its simplicity. You only need a bowl, a clean kitchen towel, measuring cup, parchment paper, measuring spoons, a whisk or fork, a sharp knife, and your hands. It bakes inside the oven on a sheet pan or inside a covered roasting pan or dutch oven. See my recipe for instructions on both methods.
The prep time is minimal. It takes under five minutes to whisk together the ingredients, 2 to 4 hours to proof or rest your dough on a counter, then a few minutes to shape, and a mere 30 minutes to bake. Have a little fun and explore a few scoring techniques online. Voilà! You will have an artisanal, crust-like work of art that is made for a slathering of homemade butter with very little effort.
Rustic loaves are wonderful. Mine will surely find a place at the holiday table this winter and, in varying flavors, into the arms of my friends this Christmas.
Don’t let the idea of bread overwhelm you. This is one of the quickest, easiest recipes you will ever master. And your kitchen will smell like a little slice of heaven each time you pull a fresh-baked loaf from the oven.
So, bake happy, friend. Bake bread.
Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.James Beard
- 1 Tbsp. instant dry yeast
- 2 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 1/2 cup water
- 1 tsp. fine sea salt
- 3 cups of flour (plus extra for shaping)
- 2 Tbsp. honey powder
- 1 Tbsp. melted unsalted butter
Whisk yeast, water, and sugar in a large bowl and let it sit for a few minutes. Add the butter and dry ingredients and combine them into a sticky dough. Cover with a damp towel and let proof (or rest) on a counter from 2 to 4 hours until the dough has more than doubled in size. I find 3 1/2 hours to work best for me. Depending on the room temperature and humidity, make sure your dough doesn't overproof. It's a very forgiving recipe, so don't stress too much.
Once ready, very generously flour a surface. This is a very wet and sticky dough (use wet fingertips to coax it from the bowl to a floured surface). Use a generous amount of flour to fold it over onto itself a few times. Pat and shape into a ball with your hands, gently tucking the bottom under. Sprinkle with more flour.
Set your loaf on a piece of parchment dusted with cornmeal and/or flour. Use a bowl to help keep a rounded shape. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. If using a dutch oven or roasting pan with a lid, preheat it for 20 to 30 minutes while your bread ball proofs a second time (puffs again).
Use a sharp knife or lame to slash the top of the bread. Sprinkle your loaf top with flour and/or cornmeal. Drop the loaf with the parchment on a baking sheet or inside the dutch oven and cover. If using this method, bake for 20-25 minutes covered, then uncovered for approximately 10 minutes or until browned to your satisfaction. If baking on a flat baking sheet, add a pan of water to the lower quadrant of the oven and bake until golden and browned. With either method, your loaf will take approximately 30 minutes to bake. Cool on a wire rack before serving.
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