Important note: I only bake bread with whole wheat flour. Generally speaking, “white” flour is easier to work with and rises better, so my recipe should work with it as well (just use less yeast), but I have not really tested it.
This is a pretty minimal recipe. We will only need the following:
Whole wheat flour, 6 cups
Salt, ⅔ to 1 table spoon
Yeast, ½ tea spoon (plus or minus)
This produces two standard-size loafs of breads (in 9×5″ baking pans) or one large, even tastier loaf. When needed, it is straightforward to half or double this recipe.
The algorithm goes like this.
In a very large bowl mix the dry ingredients (everything but water). Then slowly add water (preferably, cold water in the summer and warm water in the winter, but not hot water!) until the flour is wet. Mix well with a large wooden spoon. Cover and leave it to rise for 12-24 hours, the longer the better. If at any point during the rising you decide to postpone the baking, just put the bowl in the fridge. You can keep it there for suite some time (up to two weeks!). Generally speaking, the longer the dough rises, the tastier the bread is.
After 12-24 hours, get the dough out of the bowl and fold it a few times onto itself to agitate it a little bit. If baking two loaves, split in half and put into the pans. I find it necessary to grease or oil my pans beforehand (I use a thin layer of a vegetable oil, usually canola oil).
If there is time, cover the dough and let it rise again (maybe for an hour or an hour and a half). If you have no time for this, just skip directly to baking.
Put the pans in the cold oven and set it to 450°F. Bake for 1½ hours, until done. (The baked bread should have hard crust, make a hollow sound when you tap it and the internal temperature of 195°F or over).
The last step (important). When done, get the bread out of the oven and out of the pans and leave it to cool exposed to air from all sides (for example, on a turned-off burner of a gas stove). You can only start eating bread after it has fully cooled down.
This method has a few major differences with the traditional bread recipes: I don't knead the dough; I put very little yeast and leave it rise for a very long time; I don't preheat the oven. (The lack of preheating, by the way, allows to put the dough in the pans in the oven overnight, to program the oven to turn on one hour before the wake-up time and to wake up to the delicious smell of bread being bake. That was my last breakthrough when I realized that my oven can be programmed).
So, how much work is required here? Three minutes to measure the ingredients and to make the dough, one minute to put it into the pans, and one more minute to take it out of the oven and set to cool down. Five minutes for two loaves! Not too shabby, I say.
Even more importantly, the method works great on workdays when I have to leave in the morning and come back in the evening. For example, it is possible to make the dough in the evening after work, and either bake next evening, or leave it overnight, so it gets baked in the morning.
The outcome? Minimalistic wheat bread, well liked by many people including my kids (and that's saying a lot!).
It is possible to build up on the recipe by adding more ingredients while following the basic method. I personally always try to add at least ½ cup of whole rye flour and/or 2 table spoons of caraway seeds. But this deserves a separate post.
Enjoy, and bon appétit! Baking your own bread is good for the body and for the soul.