Baking bread is a challenging yet satisfying way to provide a basic source of fiber and nutrients. The ingredients and process are simple enough, but the variations in texture, shape and flavor are limitless. Bakers place the dough on heavy, flat stones in their ovens instead of in bread pans, to ensure even cooking and a solid, crisp bottom crust.
Things You'll Need
- 3 cups unbleached flour
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 packet dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 egg, beaten (optional)
- Wooden spoon
- Wooden board
- Pizza stone
Put the pizza stone inside the oven, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit at least 30 minutes before you will place the dough inside.
Combine the flour, salt and yeast in a bowl. Gradually add the water, as you mix the ingredients with a wooden spoon. Use only enough water to make a thick and shapeless dough that can be laid out and worked by hand. Add egg for a richer texture, if desired.
Lightly dust your hands, the dough and the wooden board with flour, to prevent the dough from sticking to them. Place the dough on the board, and knead the dough by hand: Fold in half, press down, roll out, turn over, and repeat. Continue for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and is thick enough to hold its shape.
Shape the dough into the loaf of your preference, and dust it once more with flour. Cover it with a damp towel at room temperature, to allow it to begin rising. The cooler the temperature, the more slowly the dough will rise. This process takes an average of 40 minutes.
Shape the dough once again, working the loaf by kneading and punching gently to allow air pockets to form; this will keep the bread light and allow the essential gluten to form. After the dough begins to rise a second time, and has increased in size by about half its original shape, place it on the stone in the preheated oven.
During the first 10 minutes of baking, mist the dough gently with water. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Tips & Warnings
- Use a pizza stone at least 3/4 inch thick. It will retain and transfer heat better than a thinner stone.
- Before baking, brush a mixture of egg yolk and water along the top of the dough for a richer crust.
- Some bread bakers use a second pizza stone, placed above the bread, in order to maintain a constant temperature on all sides as the bread bakes. Keep the sides of the oven free of obstruction to the heat can circulate.
- If a pizza stone is not available, a large, flat terracotta tile, at least 3/4 inch thick, can serve the same purpose.
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