Many people are scared to try breadmaking, but this gorgeous and foolproof artisan loaf is sure to be a family favorite. My dad, ever the staunch critic, even called it restaurant-worthy! The key to the perfect crusty loaf is just a cast iron dutch oven with a heavy lid. The big loaf I made was gone in 24 hours, and that should tell you all you need to know about making it yourself. It would be a perfect addition to the table for the holidays.
4 cups of bread flour leveled off (or all-purpose flour, but bread flour gives it that delightfully chewy texture of artisan bread)
2 cups of warm water (about 105° F)
1 1/2 envelopes or 3 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vegetable or olive oil
This recipe can be made by hand or with a stand mixer, but in my opinion, bread made with a mixer is less dense and more light and fluffy because less flour is needed while working with the dough.
- Step 1: In the mixing bowl stir together the sugar and water. After that is combined stir in the yeast and let it sit until it “blooms” (activates and gets all foamy), about 5 minutes.
- Step 2: After yeast has bloomed, add in all of the flour and salt and mix on low just until flour is all incorporated and the dough comes together into a shaggy mass. At this point, it will not be a smooth ball of dough ready to go into the oven and that’s okay! It should be sticky, but if it is more wet than sticky, add a little bit of flour but no more than 1 tablespoon at a time to avoid adding too much. If the dough is dry and not sticky, add a little bit of water but follow the same rule of 1 tablespoon at a time to avoid adding too much.
- Step 3: Cover the mixing bowl with a kitchen towel and let it rise until it doubles in size. Depending on the warmth of the area you’re working in, this should take 1 to 2 hours.
- Step 4: Since this is a sticky dough and we want that artisan texture, it requires the folding method instead of punching down and kneading it. To fold the dough, think of your bowl and dough as having four sides. On the first side of the bowl, grab the edge of the dough and lift it so the dough stretches out some then fold that edge to the middle. Turn the bowl 90 degrees then do this again with the next edge. Repeat until you’ve folded all four sides of the dough to the middle of the bowl. After this is done, cover the bowl, and let it rise until it has doubled in size, which should take another 1 to 2 hours.
- Step 5: After this second rise, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and sprinkle a little more flour over the top of the dough. Shape the dough into a smooth round ball by again imagining the dough ball as having 4 sides. Gently cup the ball with your hands each on one side of the dough then, using the sides of your hands, tuck these two opposite sides of the dough under the ball. Turn the dough 90 degrees and again tuck the sides under. Repeat this until the top of the dough is smooth and taut.
- Step 6: Oil a clean bowl with a teaspoon of olive or vegetable oil then lightly dust it with flour. Place your shaped dough into the bowl with the smooth top facing upward. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let the dough rest and rise for 1 hour.
- Step 7: While the dough is resting, preheat your oven to 450°F and put the cast iron dutch oven in the oven with the lid on for 1 hour.
- Step 8: After 1 hour, carefully remove the very hot dutch oven from the oven and place it on a heat-safe surface. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and then flip the dough ball over so that the top is again facing up. For that real artisan look, lightly dust the top with flour before scoring. Using a very sharp knife—to prevent tearing the dough—score the top of the dough by gently slicing 3 parallel lines into the top of the dough ball about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Carefully drop the ball of dough into the hot dutch oven with the scored side facing up and cover tightly with the dutch oven lid.
- Step 9: Return the dutch oven to the oven. Bake, covered, for 45 minutes. Removed the lid, then bake uncovered for 15 minutes.
- Step 10: Take the bread from the pot and cover it with a kitchen towel while it cools for 10 minutes. Slice, as needed, with a bread knife and use for dipping with olive oil infused with Italian herbs or simply some butter that has been brought to room temperature for easy spreading.
Although the process is time-consuming, it’s because so much of breadmaking is downtime letting the dough rest and rise, which is really the most important part. It’s actually a super simple bread recipe, and your family will likely devour it like mine did! It also makes for a nice handmade gift. Just wrap it in some craft paper or parchment paper, tie it with some twine, and attach a nice card or tag. If you decide to try your hand at this bread, don’t forget to tag @thelafayettemom on Instagram!