Art of the Smart

Good Artisinal Bread Recipe

This is just a good, bare-minimum, reliable bread recipe that can be done in just 12 hours and with $10 worth of equipment.

I'm writing this to (a) remember my own recipe and (b) save someone else the trouble I had trying to learn how to make this. Books can't show you what to do like the internet can, but websites can get bogged down by adverts or the blogger's life story. I'm here to make bread, not hear about your kids. So this is the skinny on how to make a tasty, crusty, artisinal-style bread loaf. Once you have this process making you a good loaf on-demand, feel free to experiment!


A Few Notes

You don't have to follow these, but I strongly recommend it for best results.

Use weight, not volume. Measuring by cups is good for approximating, but flour settles differently for everyone and it will throw off your proportions to use volume instead of weight. You can get a kitchen scale at Goodwill for like $5. Here's mine. Bread turned out bad? Start with this.

Use a baking dish with a lid. Being able to "steam" the bread in its own juices for the first part of baking makes a big difference in the crustiness of the crust and the spongey quality of the crust. You can get a cheap pot and lid at the Goodwill for like $5. Here's mine. Seriously, Goodwill is the best for picking up a new hobby.

Don't have starter? Make some cheap. Starter is just REALLY yeasty, over-fermented bread. Take a pinch of powdered yeast and throw it in a jar with a quarter cup of flour and enough water that it turns into a paste. Wait until it looks like the starter image in this recipe. Bam; starter.

Change up the flour. This recipe is heavy on the all-purpose flour, but you can use other kinds also. Just remember that lower gluten means denser, chewier bread. So don't go making a whole loaf out of wheat bread unless you want to eat a brick. I've had the best success with 55% bread flour, 30% all-purpose flour, 15% wheat flour. If you want to keep 3 kinds of flour around. :P


Start this process 12 hours before you want to be eating bread. I like this bread for breakfast, so I start around 9PM.

Combine all flour and water in a mixing bowl until it looks like the image below.

A pasty, sticky mess that has little to no structure when stretched.

Let it sit in its bowl for 30 minutes. This develops some of the enzymes in the flour. Yes, it's necessary. Afterwards it will look like the image below.

A pasty, sticky mess that has structure and resists being stretched.

Take your sourdough starter. It should look like the image below; bubbly, smelly, and stretchy.

A bubbly, fermented goop that smells fruity and yeasty.

Mix that starter into your bread dough thoroughly- until it starts to lose cohesion. To do this, grab half, fold it up over the other half and press down with the flat of your hand. Like this.

Grab half, fold it up over the other half and press down with the flat of your hand.

Take your salt and sprinkle half over the dough. Fold it over itself 3-5 times like the animation above. Do not over mix or it will slow down your yeast, stall your rise, and ruin your bread. Take the other half of the salt and do that again. Your bread dough should now look like the image below.

A good looking loaf ready for an overnight proof.

Cover it with a cutting board or towel, and leave it on the counter for 11 hours.

Night time on the countertop.

After 11 hours of rest, it should look like the image below.

A goopy, risen slurry that's ready for forming and baking.

Scoop it out of the bowl onto a floured surface, like this. Don't be too rough with it, but you don't need to coddle it either. Form it into whatever you want. I make rounds. The image below is what they mean when they say "pull the bread toward you to form a skin". You're using the friction of the countertop to pull the sides of the skin of the loaf tight.

Put the bread in a proofing basket, oil-lined bowl, or just leave it on the counter to sit for 15 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 450F with your covered dish or pot inside so it gets hot.

The bread sits there until it's time to bake.

Put your bread on parchment paper, like this.

Bread on parchment paper.

Put the parchment paper in your baking dish, cover it, and bake it for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, it will look like this.

Bread after the first round of lid-on baking is complete.

Remove the lid and bake it for another 20-25 minutes until it looks crusty and delicious like the image below.

The resulting bread loaf from this recipe.

Done. Not hard once you get the hang of it.

Bagels Addendum

You can use this recipe to make dough for sourdough bagels. Once you have the overnight proofing complete, separate the dough into four equal-sized balls. Round them gently, and poke a hole in the center. Dough will resist shaping so stretch them gently to keep the hole in the center and lay them on your countertop.

Boil about a liter of water with 2 tbs of sugar (optional), and boil each bagel for 1 minute per side. Add egg wash or topping as desired once they're out of the water.

Bake them on a lightly greased sheet for 20-25 minutes at 425 F.