The perfect loaf of homemade bread is a rare and elusive beast, generally requiring either a fancy stand mixer with dough-hook attachment, or a significant amount of upper arm strength. I possess neither of these things, and have failed in all attempts to cultivate a sourdough starter, so tend to leave anything bread related to the professionals (shout out to Ray at my friendly neighbourhood bakery Wild Cockatoo, at 30 Botany Road Alexandria). Given I have some time off work over the festive season, I thought it was high time to give bread making another crack, so I pulled out a recipe I’ve been meaning to try for ages – Jim Lahey’s famous Sullivan St Bakery loaf. The genius in this recipe lies in the long fermentation time and high water content, which result in a light crispy crust and a tasty, chewy interior. And the best part? No kneading, starters or fancy equipment required! All you need is some good bread flour, yeast, and a quality cast iron, enamel or ceramic dish. I used my 24cm Chasseur French Oven, which worked a treat!
Here’s the recipe, adapted from Sullivan St Bakery.
Combine 3 cups of bread flour, 1/4 teaspoon of instant yeast, and 1 teaspoon of salt in a large bowl. Pour in 1 1/2 cups of warm water and stir to combine using a wooden spoon. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to prove for 12-18 hours. The dough will rise and start forming bubbles on the surface.
Tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and fold a couple of times, then leave to rest for another 15 minutes, keeping in mind that it will be heinously sticky, and a mess is guaranteed. Generously flour a tea towel and use it to line a large bowl or pot. Shape the dough into a ball, tucking the edges in under the bottom, then place it into the tea towel-lined pot, seam-side down. Cover with another tea towel and leave to rest for about 2 hours, or until it’s doubled in size.
After about an hour and a half, pop your chosen baking dish into the oven and preheat to 270 degrees Celsius. When the oven is pre-heated and the dough has had it’s final rest, take the baking dish from the oven and tip the dough into it, seam-side up. Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on. After 30 minutes, take the lid off and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until the crust is lovely and golden. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack. While the bread is cooling, assemble your chosen accompaniments – some freshly made eggplant dip, lashings of camembert and prosciutto, or a generous schmear of good quality butter.