Steve’s brother asked us once: if we had to give up one carb, pasta or bread, which would it be? Loyal to my roots, I said stick with pasta. But it’s not true. I would never give up bread.
There’s a lot to love about Botswana – but bread is not on the list. There are some wonderful delicacies in the form of bready-things — extra-buttery scones and delicious, delicious fatcakes which are, as far as I can tell, deep fried balls of dough — but regular old, everyday bread isn’t really a thing here. We bought a loaf of sliced bread at the store as soon as we arrived and I couldn’t finish a single slice. I couldn’t finish a slice. Me. The person who fantasizes about bread.
Luckily for me, Steve is not only a very good cook, but the grandson of Germans on both sides of his family. He started experimenting with bread baking not long after we got settled, worrying, perhaps, about what kind of carb-deprived monster I might turn into without it. It’s a measure of how desperate I was for bread, and how much I love the stuff, that every ruined loaf yielded enthusiastic praise from me – when I could actually talk between stuffing it in my face.
His bread is a simple no-knead recipe that is easy to make – just yeast, flour, salt, and water. And it is amazing. He adapted it from the New York Times simple bread recipe and he makes it often. It is delicious, perfect with olive oil, or as toast, or as sandwich bread. It takes only a few hours to rise and comes out of the oven with an incredible golden crust and light crumb. It reminds me of excellent Italian bread.
So, without further ado – here’s the recipe. Enjoy!
Steve’s no-knead bread
Makes half a recipe. You can also let the dough rise overnight in the fridge and it will become a bit sour.
3 1/4 C. flour (plus more for shaping)
¾ tbs. fast-acting yeast (about half a packet)
¾ tbs. salt (sometimes he uses a little less because he thinks the bread is too salty. He’s wrong.)
1 ½ c. hot water
Preheat your oven as hot as it will go – somewhere around 450-500 degrees.
Heat the water to not quite boiling. It needs to be hot but not so hot that you can’t put your finger in it. Let it cool a bit if necessary.
Sift all dry ingredients together. Pour in the water and mix with a wooden spoon. Dust the top with flour. The dough should be fairly wet.
Cover and let rise for about 90 minutes, until the dough is doubled in size.
With floured hands, turn it out on a floured surface (we use the counter). Use plenty of flour to shape the dough into an oblong, football-like shape. At this point you can make one large loaf or slice the loaf in half for two smaller ones. Slice the top to help the loaf expand.
Place on a cookie sheet dusted with cornmeal, or spread with olive oil, or covered in parchment paper. Sometimes Steve uses olive oil and cornmeal because “our cookie sheet is crap.” Slide the loaf or loaves onto the bottom rack of the oven.
Throw a handful of ice cubes in the bottom of the oven (to create steam for the crust) and shut the door.
Bake for 20 minutes and let cool (if you’re Steve. Or stand over it whimpering until you can’t take it anymore and then shove it piping-hot into your face, if you’re me).