Beautiful Rustic Bread Made with Just Four Ingredients and a Few Simple Steps

If you've been to this blog before you know that I am a proponent of making your own bread. Contrary to common misconception it is neither difficult or time basically makes itself, you simply combine the ingredients and guide it along. This is the most basic recipe using the most minimal ingredients...and it's because of it's simplicity that I also feel that this one of the best loaves.

I do have to confess one thing, and that is that while I state that it has four ingredients it actually has five...that is if you want to count the two separate flours (bread flour and whole wheat); I've included them as one ingredient because they basically (the bread flour) is simply a refined version of the other (whole wheat). For an actual typed recipe for this bread, click here; for a recipe for bread made with 100% whole wheat flour, click here.

Anyhow, to make this bread you will need these simple ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast.

This is the equipment you will need: a bowl, an electric upright mixer (or you can mix the dough by hand), a bowl or bucket, a sharp knife or razor (to slash the dough), a baking sheet (or bread pan if you want a traditional sandwich loaf), and an oven.

This recipe will make one really big loaf (as pictured) or two regular sized loaves. Now here's how to make the bread:

Make a preferment by combining 2 teaspoons of instant yeast with 2 cups of whole wheat flour and 2 1/2 cups cool water. Stir it (it will have a batter-like consistency), cover it, and set it aside. Now go about whatever business you have for your day. This can rest and ferment for anywhere from 30 minutes to 12 hours (or longer if you refrigerate it).
Below left is the preferment when it was just mixed, and right is how it looks after a couple hours; the bottom of the three is it being lifted with a spoon to illustrate how frothy and bubbly it has become.
Transfer the preferment to the bowl of an upright mixer that is fitted with a dough hook. Add 4 cups of bread flour, another teaspoon of instant yeast, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of Kosher or sea salt (try not to have the yeast and salt come into direct contact with each other).  Run the machine on low for a minute--until it begins to form a dough--then turn it up to medium and knead the dough for about 8-10 minutes (alternately you can knead it by hand for about 15 minutes).
Transfer the dough to a bowl or bucket and cover it with either plastic wrap or a lid (I prefer a bucket as you can see the dough's progress). Allow the dough to ferment and rise at room temperature for 60-90 minutes, or until doubled in size. On a side note, if you start a dough and realize you don't have time to bake the bread the dough can be refrigerated for a couple days (which will actually give you a more flavorful bread) or it can be frozen. The below left photo is the dough when it was initially placed in the bucket; the photo on the right is the dough after 90 minutes.
Shape the dough into a ball and place it on a pan that is lightly dusted with whole wheat flour. Cover the dough; this can be done with plastic wrap, but I prefer an inverted bowl as it does not come in contact with the rising loaf, thus it is not restricted. Preheat an oven to 425F and allow the bread to rise for 30-60 minutes at room temperature. The below left photo is the dough when it was initially shaped, then covered with the bowl (right). The bottom photo is the dough after about 60 minutes.

Using a sharp knife or razor blade slash the dough (I prefer a single-sided razor blade but there is an actual tool for this). Slashing the dough is twofold; it is for aesthetic purposes but it also allows the inner, unbaked dough to rise after the crust has formed.
Immediately after slashing the dough place it in the preheated oven; if you have a few ice cubes handy toss them onto the oven floor to create a little steam (this will offer increased "oven spring" and a crispier crust). Bake the bread for about 30-40 minutes, until it is golden brown, feels light for it's size, and sounds hollow when tapped with a finger. Remove the bread from its pan and transfer to a cooling rack. Tempting as it may be, allow it to cool for 15 minutes before slicing (it will have better flavor and slice easier).

Now your house will be warm and cozy and smell intoxicatingly like fresh bread.


Andy in Germany said…
Thanks again for sharing these... now I really need to get moving and bake something...
Joe said…
Andy, It's an easy and delicious recipe...very satisfying to make. Let me know how it turns out.
Jesse Smith said…
Thanks for posting this. It is so simple and appealing that I was inspired to bake it (I hadn't baked a yeast bread in years). I find bread making kind of mysterious. On the surface, it's such a simple recipe, but there are so many variables (e.g., length of fermenting, kneading, how many times you let it rise, room temperature, etc.) that come into play.

And it's one of those many delicious and healthy foods that must have seemed like a bad idea at first (I let this flour and water sit for a week and now it smells sour - maybe I should use it to make bread!).
Joe said…
Jesse, Thanks for the comments...I'm always glad when people not only use my recipes but also make their own bread :)