Easy Country Bread
There are those days where, a few hours before dinnertime, you realize that nothing but freshly baked, artisanal bread will do. Maybe you’re making a rustic soup, or a really saucy number that will most certainly require some bread mopping. But alas! Homemade bread takes a day to rise, and so much waiting, kneading, and folding, waiting, kneading, and folding … Or so you thought.
The dough for this country-style boule is ridiculously easy, so yes, you can make it (more or less) at the last minute. All you have to do is stir the four ingredients together by hand and let it sit for two hours before sliding it in the oven — during which time you can prep the rest of your meal.
How good can a bread be with a mere two hours of rising, you ask? The answer is: shockingly good. The secret to beautiful artisanal bread is steam, so as we slide our bread into the oven, we pour hot water onto a preheated sheet pan. This simple step creates loads of steamy moisture which gives the bread a soft, airy crumb and a crackly, golden brown crust.
We’ve also gone easy with the salt in this bread, so it has a simple, lightly sweet flour flavor that’s delightful with a pat of sweet cream butter and a sprinkle of flake salt. It’s also the perfect accompaniment to rich, savory dishes, like this slow cooker cannellini and bacon soup. And since this country bread is so easy to make, you might as well make an extra loaf for the neighbor!
1 pkg (2 ¼ tsp) dry active yeast
1 tsp kosher salt
3 cups hot water (110° to 120°), divided
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Special equipment: pizza stone, pizza peel (optional)
In a large bowl, add the dry active yeast, kosher salt, and 1 ½ cups hot water, and stir to combine. Add the all-purpose flour, and stir until just incorporated. Cover the bowl with a clean towel, and let the dough rest at room temperature for 2 hours.
Line a pizza peel (or rimless baking sheet) with parchment paper, and dust it lightly with flour.
Transfer the dough to a well-floured surface. Using floured hands, pull the edges of the dough inward, and then pinch them together in the center to create a tight ball.
Flip the dough ball over so that the pinched center is on the bottom, and continue to tuck the edges under the ball, turning the dough 90 degrees as you go, to create an even tighter surface area and shape it into a circle.
Transfer the boule to the parchment-lined pizza peel and allow it to rest for 45 minutes, or until 25 percent larger.
Meanwhile, place a pizza stone on the center rack of the oven and place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack. Preheat the oven to 425°.
After the dough has rested, use a serrated knife to score the boule twice vertically and twice horizontally, creating a tic-tac-toe board.
Slowly ease the parchment and the dough off the pizza peel and onto the center of the pizza stone. Carefully pour the remaining 1 ½ cups hot water onto the sheet pan below. Quickly close the oven door to keep the steam inside the oven, and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the crust is hard and a deep golden brown. Note: the bread should make a crackling sound when it comes out of the oven.
Transfer the boule to a wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour.
Enjoy immediately, or store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.