A note from my Aunt Becky: You bake this bread in a 6- to 8-quart cast-iron Dutch oven. This recipe is for an enameled Dutch oven (an enameled Dutch oven has a color on the outside). I use a Lodge Dutch oven, which is relatively inexpensive, but doesn’t have the colored enamel on the outside. It’s the same color as a cast-iron skillet. The Lodge Dutch oven gets hotter because it’s all dark, so I lower the baking temperature. I’ll put both temps in the recipe, just in case.
From the Cook’s Illustrated recipe with a little editing from my Aunt Becky:
An enameled cast-iron Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid yields best results, but the recipe also works in a regular cast-iron Dutch oven or heavy stockpot. Use a mild-flavored lager, such as Budweiser, Miller, or Coors. [It’s the yeast in the beer, not the fizz, and a mild lager doesn’t flavor the bread. You can save the remaining beer for another loaf. It’s okay if it’s flat.] The bread is best eaten the day it is baked, but can be wrapped in aluminum foil and stored in a cool dry place for up to two days.
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting work surface
¼ teaspoon instant (quick-acting) yeast
1½ teaspoons table salt
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons water at room temperature
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons mild-flavored lager
1 tablespoon white vinegar
Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Use a wooden spoon and stir/fold mixture until shaggy ball forms. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours. [Save the plastic wrap because you’ll use it again.]
Tear off an 18-inch long piece of 12-inch wide parchment and spray it with cooking spray. Put the parchment inside a 10-inch skillet. Transfer dough to a floured work surface and knead 10 to 15 times [I usually knead it a bit more than that, but I enjoy kneading bread dough]. Shape dough into a ball and place the dough (seam-side down) on the parchment in the skillet. Spray the surface of the dough with cooking spray. Cover the dough loosely with the piece of plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until dough has approximately doubled in size, about 2 hours. Dust the top of the dough with flour and use kitchen scissors or a sharp knife and cut a slit across the top of the dough.
About 30 minutes before you want to bake the bread, adjust the oven rack to the lowest position, place the Dutch oven, with the lid on, in the middle of the lowest rack, and turn on the oven to 500 degrees for an enameled Dutch oven OR 425 degrees for a plain Dutch oven.
FOODIE NOTES: I am not a baker, but I love bread.
This is a blessing, and a curse. It's a blessing because my physique could do without the rush of white flour carbs crashing, like a wrecking ball, through my carefully maintained metabolism, which it certainly would be if I knew how to make really great bread.
It's a curse, because there is nothing better in the world than fresh baked bread, hot from the oven. Especially during the Fall months. The smell, the taste and the texture of bread when you make it and eat it are comforting to your core. Bread gives you a sense of familiarity in a way that no other food group can really match. Bread calls you home.
I am not a baker, not because I do not have an interest in being one. I do have a great interest in learning how to bake. The truth is, I am not a baker, because I am not someone who cooks with the precision required to bake. I cook with intention and passion, but not precision. I know how to cook something by looking at it. I know what is in a dish by tasting it. I take a pinch of this and that, and toss it in there. If I have some of those, they go in the pot too. I know how to cook using my eyes, ears and nose. I am a rough and rustic home-cook. And as Julia Child put it, "I am fearless."
I make a mess when I cook, and I don't care. I once made an entire leg of pork for our extended family one Christmas, and it was only when I placed it in the oven, I realized it was so big I could not close the oven door. I have been known to snap during first-time tried culinary maneuvers. Do not mention to my family the night I attempted to make Chinese Pork Buns at my house. Shhh-shh, just don't. It was ugly. Maybe I was on my period, who remembers . . .my family jokes that I could never repeat the same dish twice because of my tweaking and substitutions. It's kinda true. I just never really want to eat the same dish the same exact way twice.
There are many reasons we refer to bread as the Staff of Life in our society:
Bread is simple. It takes only 5 or 6 very basic ingredients to make good bread.
Bread is inexpensive. These basic ingredients cost less than $1 to make 1 loaf of bread at home.
Bread is versatile. It can be found playing major roles on our tables at breakfast, lunch and dinner as a start to the meal all the way through to dessert. Ever had incredible bread pudding? I rest my case.
Bread is biblical. Bread is used in parts of our Christian religious traditions. During Communion, bread is used to symbolize the body of Christ. In the Jewish religion, Matzah or unleavened bread is eaten during Passover and Hallah is eaten on Shabbat. Some say the bible describes "manna from heaven" in bread-like terms.
Bread is cultural. Some form of starch is used in almost every culture's food traditions, whether it is made from wheat, corn, rice or even tapioca flour.
Bread is political. It is what we use to symbolize the desire to make peace with our enemies, by breaking bread with them.
Bread is traditional. Tell me what Thanksgiving looks like without hot buttered rolls on the table? How about your first sandwich? Remember how good your first peanut butter & jelly sandwich tasted on white Wonder bread? Did you make one for your kids when they got old enough?
I was talking to my Aunt Becky about the fact that I was not a baker. She told me she found this recipe in Cooks Illustrated that was a simple "no-knead" bread recipe that she had tried and it worked beautifully. When she sent it to me, I pooh-poohed it for a couple of days because it seems so long and complicated.
I was lucky enough to watch Camille, Chef Jonathan's wife, and right hand at the Justus Drugstore make her world famous bread one day. She makes hers this exact same way, using cast iron Lodge pots in the oven. When I realized that I could make bread like Camille does at Justus Drugstore, I ran to the store to get yeast immediately. This I had to see for myself. The picture above is of my finished product. It was easy, perfect and absolutely wonderful with a little butter dunked into a hot cup of coffee. Eatie took the rest to work, and it was gobbled up before lunch with high praise coming from his team.
Guess what? I can now officially call myself a baker, and if you try this recipe, you can call yourself one too. Enjoy!