If you’ve never baked bread before or you want a bread that’s easy and relatively quick to prepare, look no further. This dough may be mixed by machine or by hand, plus it’s easy to shape into a loaf.
Makes one 9- to 10-inch round loaf
1 1/4 cups room temperature tap water, about 75°F
2 1/4 teaspoons fine granulated active dry or instant yeast
3 cups bread flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
Olive or vegetable oil for the bowl
One heavy cookie sheet or pizza pan dusted with cornmeal or lined with parchment paper, plus a spray bottle filled with warm water
- Pour the water into the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk in the yeast. Wait 30 seconds and whisk again.
- Use a rubber spatula to stir the flour into the yeast and water mixture a little at a time. Make sure all the flour is mixed into the liquid and there isn’t any clinging to the side of the bowl.
- Place the bowl on the mixer and attach the dough hook. Mix on lowest speed until the dough comes together around the dough hook, 1 to 2 minutes. Stop the mixer and pull the dough away from the hook; let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
- Increase the mixer speed to low/medium, sprinkle in the salt, and mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, 2 to 3 minutes longer.
- Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl and turn it over so that the top is oiled. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough ferment until it starts to puff, about 30 minutes.
- Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface, flour your hands, and gently flatten the dough to a disk. Fold the two sides in to overlap at the middle, then roll the top toward you all the way to the end, jelly-roll style. Invert, flatten, and repeat. Place the dough back in the bowl seam side down and cover. Let the dough ferment until fully doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes.
- To form the dough into a boule-shaped loaf, use a flexible plastic scraper to slide it from the bowl to a floured work surface; try not to deflate the dough. Fold the edges of the dough all around its perimeter into the center. Round the loaf by pushing against the bottom of the dough all around with the sides of your hands held palms upward. The dough will quickly form an even sphere.
- Place the dough on the prepared pan and cover it with a flat-weave towel or piece of sprayed or oiled plastic wrap. Let the dough rest until it starts to puff again, about 30 minutes. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 450˚F.
- Once the dough is proofed to about 50% larger, flour the palms of your hands and gently press to flatten it to about 1 1/2 inches thick. Use an X-Acto knife or single-edge razor blade to cut 4 slashes in the form of a square at the edges of the loaf and a 1/8-inch deep slash across the diameter of the loaf, then generously spray it with water. Place the pan in the oven.
- Wait 5 minutes, then open the oven and spray the loaf again and reduce the oven temperature to 425˚F. Bake the loaf until it is well risen and deep golden and the internal temperature reads 200°F on an instant read thermometer, 20 to 30 minutes.
- Cool the loaf on a rack. Keep the bread loosely covered at room temperature on the day it’s baked. Wrap and freeze for longer storage. Reheat at 350˚F for 5 minutes and cool before serving.