Updated: Jul 24, 2018
The first time that I had this bread was sitting at my best friend’s dinner table. His mom had made a version of it and I was totally hooked (thanks Mum)! I was intrigued because it was so tasty, the crust was perfect, the inside was soft and elastic, and it soaked up oil and vinegar just right. I had to have the recipe! When I was shown how to make it, I was blown away by how easy it was – I mean, you don’t even have to knead it. I can whip up a batch in the morning, let it sit throughout the day, and cook it for dinner with very little effort and amaze all of the people who eat it.
I have made a couple of modifications from that original recipe to make it my own signature loaf and I encourage you to do the same as you try it out. I am sure that this bread will become a staple in your home as it has mine.
I also hope that you find, as I did, that it is a lot easier on the body than store bought bread. I used to have minor sensitivities to bread/wheat/gluten, but as I transitioned to this bread all of those seem to have gone away for the most part. I did a test by buying some store bought bread and eating it again for a week or so and the old reactions came back. Since then I eat my bread almost exclusively (well, and English muffins because I can never resist those) and have no issues whatsoever.
3 cups flour (I prefer all-purpose flour to bread flour)
1 ½ Tbsp dried rosemary
1 ½ Tbsp dried fennel seed
1 Tbsp onion powder
1 Tbsp garlic powder (or minced garlic)
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp baker’s yeast
2 cups water
The key to mixing this bread is to evenly incorporate the ingredients. I mix all the dry ingredients together in one bowl and mix them together first before adding the water. This gives me an even distribution of spices and yeast throughout. I also have found that by breaking the rosemary and fennel seed up in a mortar and pestle until I can really smell their fragrance it enhances the flavor of the loaf and makes it more pleasant to eat because you don’t have large chunks of rosemary in your teeth.
I add the water all at once into the bowl and mix slowly until it begins to incorporate. Once I start to get a paste I stir more vigorously until all the flour is done (it took a few times of flinging flour out of the bowl to get the pacing down right). As I notice the flour has all been moistened, I will scrape the edges of the bowl and give a couple of turns to the entire batch to make sure no flour is hiding in the bottom and then let it sit.
It is important to cover the dough so it doesn’t dry out while it sits, I use a large silicone pastry mat to cover my bowls and that works great and is reusable. Plastic wrap works great as well. Let the dough sit for at least 8 hours (up to 24 hours – longer and it goes flat) before baking.
The key to baking this bread is having the right size and shape of container. I like to bake my bread in 3 quart cast iron crocks. I found mine years ago, but I found similar 3 quart crocks online this year at Boscov’s Department Store. I bought a couple of their teal pans and they worked just as well, one advantage of the new ones is that they are enameled so they don’t need to be oiled to not stick.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and put the cast iron in with the lids on. Preheat the cast iron for 30 minutes before adding the dough. This preheating is what gives the delightful crispy crust while the interior is still so soft. Once the pan is preheated remove them from the oven and prepare the dough for transfer. I uncover the dough and make sure it is ready to move before removing the cast iron so I can retain as much heat as possible.
To transfer the dough (and for mixing it) I prefer to use a heat resistant spoonula because they are strong enough to move the dough around quickly. Simply dump the dough into the hot cast iron and then scrape anything that sticks to the bowl down in with it. I typically bake multiple loaves at once and will transfer the lid from the cast iron I am using next to the one I just filled to keep the heat up.
Once the dough is in and everything is covered back up; bake 30 minutes with the lid on and 15 minutes with the lid off. Turn the finished loaves out onto a cooling rack (heavy duty gridded is best because these loaves are heavy!) to allow them to cool some before slicing.
Note: I have had people burn themselves on my lids/crocks while baking because they didn’t think they were hot then they were sitting on the stove (especially the lids for the 15 minutes). I now make a habit to place a hot pad on them whenever they are sitting on the stove and are hot as a warning to others that the equipment is still hot.
It is going to be tempting to cut right into the bread as soon as it comes out. Believe me, I have done it plenty of times, but you will squash the bread and it doesn’t quite look as pretty. Give it about 15 minutes before slicing and you will appreciate the appearance a lot more.
I use my bread for my sandwiches and toast and found that the best way to get a nice even slice was actually using a meat slicer on the thickest setting. I love the way the sliced loaf looks when it is all even and it is so much easier than cutting it with a knife. Before I discovered the meat slicer, I also used an electric knife and that was a close second. Be particularly careful with the cutting though because the knives tend to slip on the crust and that can be dangerous.
I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I have. I look forward to seeing how you adapt this recipe to make it your own. Please comment below with any flavor combinations or helpful tips you find as you bake this bread.