I live on my Islander 30, Miramar, in Seattle, so I’m lucky to be able to go out sailing on the spur of the moment. (Is that the sun?) After a day on the water, I really enjoy munching on round loaves of homemade country bread with crunchy crusts and moist, air-bubble-filled interiors. But who has time for all the prep? You can’t be steering your way around the Tuesday-evening Duck Dodge on Lake Union when you’re down below kneading dough. The answer? Bake bread the slow-rise way, letting the yeast do the kneading for you. Here on the water in chilly Seattle, I turn on the pilot in my oven and put the bread in there to rise. I don’t leave the pilot on; instead, I turn it off and on as I think of it. I’ve left the dough in the oven to rise while I go out sailing for hours; it doesn’t seem to mind the heeling. This bread isn’t completely self-making, but it’s as close as you can come to it without using a magic wand.
All you’ll need to make this delicious, 1-pound loaf—besides an oven—is a 4- to 6-quart cast-iron or oven-proof pot with a lid and a large mixing bowl.
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour
- 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 tablespoon corn meal (optional, to add crunch)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
- 1 5/8 cups water
Stir all dry ingredients well in a large bowl, then add water. Mix until it hangs together. The dough will be sticky. This should take about 5 minutes; no kneading is required.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature (70 F) for 12 to 24 hours. (If you’re in a hot climate, wrap a cloth soaked in water around the bowl to keep it cool. Rewet the cloth as needed). Dough is ready when you see bubbles on the surface.
Turn dough out onto a floured surface and dust lightly with flour as you fold it over onto itself several times. Let rest for 15 minutes or so, then shape into a ball, using your hands and only as much flour and/or corn meal as needed to keep it from sticking to you and the surface. (If you like a more textured crust, sprinkle a little course-ground wheat flour over the bread.) Cover with the same plastic wrap and let dough rise again for 2 hours. The loaf will increase by about 50 percent.
Thirty minutes before the 2 hours of rising time are up, put your ungreased pot, with its lid on, into the oven and heat it to 450 F. After 30 minutes, remove the pot and roll your loaf into it. You can shape the loaf somewhat by shaking the pot and rolling the dough around in it, but the irregular shape is one of the appeals of this bread. Put the lid back on and return the pot with dough to the oven to bake for 30 minutes. This is the steam-baking part of the process. Remove the lid and bake another 15 minutes until the crust is brown. Dump out the bread, let it cool on a rack, and enjoy a wonderful, homemade country loaf for pennies.