This was another post I had on my other blog — I justified having it on a travel blog by saying it was for “baguettes.” And this recipe for easy crusty rustic artisan bread does make good long loaves — but it also makes amazing round loaves, oval loaves, pizza dough, loaves braided and filled with roasted red peppers…the list goes on so much that it almost makes me sound like a foodie! For rounded loaves I sometimes like to use proofing baskets I got years ago — just round baskets to raise the loaves in that give a nice shape and texture to the finished loaves.
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I’ve been using this method for several years now to make delicious bread with a crackly-crunchy crust without a wood fire oven.
The method comes from the book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. The book is highly reommended; they also have an amazing recipe for brioche dough. I’ve been using this method for years now in various shapes. My foodie spouse even likes it!
I like to serve it, sometimes with either a nice cheese or, for a recipe on this site, with steamed shellfish.
Equipment You’ll Need:
I’ve also included these things in the recipe itself for the impatient who might skip ahead…but to make this bread successfully, there are some items you’ll NEED — baking on a baking stone and having steam in the oven are what give this bread its amazing crust (for a home-baked loaf.)
In the photo above, you can see a few of the things you’ll need:
- A Baking Stone: Mine’s a bit embarassing; you can see that it’s well-loved. Get a good-quality one and take care of it so it lasts.
- An Oven Thermometer: Not every oven is created equal. For best results, check your oven with a basic thermometer before the first time you bake and see what setting on your oven actually results in a temperature of 450 degrees F. You don’t have to check it every time you bake. If you switch ovens, it’s good to do it again.
- A pan: Yep, just a basic metal pan in the bottom of the oven. I actually have a steam bake setting on my oven but, for this bread, doing it this way actually seemed to work better.
You also will need:
- A big plastic bowl with a lid; it serves for both mixing, rising, and storing the dough. Just make sure there’s enough room for the dough to at least double when it rises. And make sure the lid isn’t air-tight.
- A wooden spoon. This is a no-knead recipe, but I still get my hands into it. But initially I like to mix the ingredients with a wooden spoon until they’re incorporated, then finish the job with my hands.
- A pizza peel. This helps to get your loaf into the oven. Put some cornmeal on it and let the loaf rise here, then you can just gently shake the loaf off onto the baking stone once the oven’s hot. For bread in proofing baskets, I still end up turning the dough (after it rises) onto the cornmealed stone. The cornmeal adds a rustic quality to the finished loaf, aside from helping it come off the peel.
On to the Recipe for Easy Crusty Rustic Artisan Bread:
Easy Crusty Rustic Bread
- Baking Stone
- Metal Pan
- Oven Thermometer
- Wooden Spoon
- Large Plastic Bowl with Lid
- Pizza Peel
- 3 cups water
- 2 packets active dry yeast
- 1.5 tbsp salt
- 6.5 cups flour Unbleached white flour is preferable, but I've had good results with regular all-purpose flour when that's all I had and bread flour as well.
- cornmeal for covering pizza peel
- 1 cup water hot — for steaming the bread
Making the Dough
- Measure the water into the large bowl. The water should be 100 degrees or so (lukewarm — be careful not to get it too hot as there is a danger of killing the yeast. If it’s cooler than that, it’s OK — it just means you’ll probably have to let the dough raise longer).Add the yeast and dissolve. Add the salt.
- Measure your flour and then dump the whole thing into your plastic bowl with the yeast mixture. Mix it up with a wooden spoon and/or you can dig in and use your hands to incorporate everything — but no kneading!
- You’ll end up with a sticky, messy wet dough. Time to let it rise. Put the lid on (loosely, never air tight), let it sit out at room temperature (unless your room temperature is very cold; then put it in a warm room), and let it sit there until it doubles, which should be about 2 hours — but it may take more than this.Really — let it grow. If you truly want to irritate your children you can sing a few refrains to the tune of “Let it go” while you wait. Letting it sit for up to 5 hours or so wont hurt it but you want to make sure it at least doubles in size here.
Refrigerate the Dough
- Put it in the refrigerator. You can bake it now if you want but it’s easier to handle and shape after two hours in the refrigerator.You’ll be keeping the extra dough in the fridge, anyway, and pulling off a pound or so at a time when you want a loaf (or pizza crust).The dough will keep in the refrigerator for a week or so.
Prepping the Oven
- OK, it’s baking time! But first we’re going to get the oven ready. Put your baking stone in the oven and put your pan at the bottom of the oven. The photo here is not quite right — I had better luck when I put the pan for water actually at the bottom of the oven and not on a rack. You want it in a place where you can put the water in in a hurry and then shut the oven.The thermometer is pictured here because oven temperature is important. I learned the hard way when I switched ovens that not all are the same. The first time you make this bread, or before, find out how you need to set your oven for an ACTUAL temperature of 450 degrees F.A word about “special” ovens like mine with a steam bake setting: I was excited about this feature. However, I found, after experimenting, I got the best results if I set my oven to steam bake, but did not use the provided steam bake tray and threw the water in the pan at the bottom of the oven at the same time I put the bread in.We’ll preheat the oven about 20 minutes after we’ve let the bread start resting, setting it to a temperature of 450 degrees F.
Shaping the Loaf
- Sprinkle cornmeal liberally on your pizza peel. Drawing a heart shape is purely optional and will have no effect whatsoever on your bread.
- Pull a chunk of dough off your large blob of dough. For a round loaf it would be approximately one pound of dough, but you can adjust for the size of loaf you want. For my baguettes (rather, I end up making demi-baguettes due to the size of my pizza peel and baking stone) I take around one pound of dough and divide it in two.Then I roll the dough out between my hands to long, thin (remember they are going to rise) loaves and taper them at the ends.Set the loave(s) on the pizza peel and let rest for about 40 minutes. 20 minutes into that resting time, you can start your oven, set to 450 degrees.
- After letting the dough rest for 40 minutes it might not look like it’s raised as much as you might expect if you are used to making bread the usual way. That’s OK, if you’ve let it rest 40 minutes and have let it raise enough earlier it will spring up more in the oven.Before baking, take a sharp knife and score the top.
- After it’s rested for 40 minutes, if you started your oven 20 minutes into the resting time, you can now put your bread in even if the oven isn’t yet fully heated to 450.Have one cup of hot water at the ready.Gently, shake the bread off the peel and onto the heated baking stone.Quickly pour the hot water into the pan at the bottom of the oven and shut the door.
- Bake for about 20 minutes for baguettes, you can bake a little longer if you like a darker crust. If you are using the recipe to make a round or oval loaf, you’ll need to adjust the time up to about 30 minutes.Avoid the temptation to open the oven during this time. You want to keep that steam in there.
- Once the bread is done baking, I use potholders to remove the loaf to a baking rack to cool down a bit.If you’re very quiet, you may hear your crust quietly crackling.Enjoy. Enjoy even more with some wine and cheese. Imagine you’re sitting on top of Montparnasse tower, overlooking Paris with this wine and bread. Unless you actually are, in which case why are you reading this recipe?