I think everyone has their list of foods they'd like to try to make themselves, but are intimidated by them. I'm sure most of my list is fairly common: pie (namely the crust), bread, fancy bakery cakes, pasta, and cheese. I'm over the pie-making fear, and the break-making one too. Does making homemade gnocchi count as making one's own pasta? :)
I am here to tell you that you should make your own delicious bread, because it really is easy, cheap, and doesn't take a lot of effort, or really even a lot of equipment. My house standby is the No-Knead Bread recipe from the New York Times. We used to make it all the time, then summer came (= NO BAKING ALLOWED!), then we got all caught up in the fall, and now just realized how much we missed it. I was starting to get so good at buying bakery loaves and looking the other way instead of wincing at the price of it. But no more! New Year's resolution is a go. Those photos up above are introducing you to our first loaf of 2011 (isn't she pretty?). We hope to progress to more complex recipes, but for now we're going to keep this the routine for a while.
The routine, as it turns out, is key. So I'm going to lay it down for you, timing and all, in hopes that it helps you check bread off of your list (if you haven't already done so).
1. Throw the ingredients together into a large bowl right before bed, say 10 or 11 PM. Flour, salt, yeast, water -- that's it! No priming the yeast either -- just toss it in and stir. (note: this loaf was 1/2 unbleached white, 1/2 whole wheat flour)
2. The end of the standard workday is handy for the next step as far as timing goes. At ~5:30, I take the bread out of the bowl and fold it over itself on a floured surface with plastic wrap over it (reuse saran from step #1).
3. The next step as far as handling the dough is in 15 minutes, so you can prep for it (efficiency!) in the meantime. Get a cotton towel (not loopy terry; a flat woven one is what you want) and coat it with some cornmeal (or flour, or wheat germ, we just prefer the cornmeal crunch). Go hunt down a container for baking the bread -- we use a big Fiestaware cassarole pot thingy. The key features are that it is a) oven safe, and b) has a lid.
4. Once the 15 minutes are up (~5:45), flour your hands and then shape the dough in a ball and place it on the towel, seam side down. Sprinkle a bit more cornmeal on it, and then fold the towel over it (or use two towels if need be). The dough now goes through a second rise for two hours. I put it in the microwave to avoid kitty-sized paw prints in the dough (it is cute, and I'm sure it has got to be fun to squish it between your toes, but I don't appreciate it very much).
5. At ~7:15, put the ovenproof pot in the oven and preheat to 450 F.
6. At 7:45, carefully take the pot out of the oven and flip the dough into it. Put the lid back on, and bake for 30 minutes.
7. At 8:15, take the lid off.
8. At 8:45, turn off the oven and take the beautiful golden loaf out! Hooray for bread!
9. Once it is cool enough to touch, take the loaf out of the pot and cool it on a wire rack completely before storing it.