Making homemade bread and pesto may not sound like a simple endeavor, but I assure you it can be.
I feel like I need a disclamer here, because I do enjoy the process of mixing and kneading dough, being covered in flour up to my elbows (and beyond), letting it rise, and knowing when I've finished that I have a loaf of bread packed full of my time and caring. This recipe requires very little time and effort, but still yealds decent results. It's no muss, no fuss; no mess, no stress; no pain... still gain. Okay, enough with the rhyming, I mean it.
...Anybody want a peanut?
Okay, moving on. (For those of you who got the Princess Bride reference, *highfive*)
This easy and crusty no-knead bread recipe comes from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, which looks like an awesome book for anyone interested in making simple and fantastic bread, but is, unfortunately, not a book I own. I first found this recipe from IvoryHut's post, which I highly recommend reading.
I changed things only slightly, by halving the recipe and adding some whole wheat flour to boost the nutrients a bit. Here's what I did:
(adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day)
3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 TBSP dry yeast
3/4 TBSP kosher salt
1 1/2 cup warm water (tap is fine)
Pour the warm water over the yeast and salt in a very large mixing bowl. Let it sit for a few minutes for the yeast to do it's thing, then go ahead and pour all the flour in. Stir (wooden spoon works well, here) until it is thoroughly combined. It'll be really shaggy at first, but just keep going until there aren't any dry spots left. Cover the bowl lightly with plastic wrap and let it sit for about 3 hours. That's it - no 24hour resting and rising this time.
The dough will puff up really big (be sure it's a really BIG bowl), then deflate a little, then you can put it in your fridge to use over the next few days or use it right away. Because it expands so much, you'll wind up with quite a bit of dough - just tear off a chunk the size you need to make a loaf, or rolls, or whatever.
When you're ready to make your loaf, pull off a chunk the size you need (softball?) and form a ball (or oblong shape, if you like) tucking the dough under itself to create a smooth surface. This stuff is super-sticky at this point, so flour your hands liberally. Set the dough on a plate or cutting board dusted with flour, corn meal, etc. and let it sit for ~40 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 450f, with a pizza stone, baking sheet, or cast iron skillet inside on the middle rack and a baking pan or rimmed baking sheet on the rack below it.
sprinkle a little flour (or cornmeal) over the top of your loaf and then cut a couple diagonal or criss-crossing slits in the top, about 1/4'' deep - this is to help the dough expand as it bakes, plus it looks nice once it's done.
Once the oven is fully pre-heated, carefully slide your dough onto/into your (in my case) cast iron skillet, and pour ~1 cup of water into the baking sheet below it. Close the oven door. The steam will help give the bread a nice crust.
Baking time will vary depending on the size and shape of your loaf, but the internal temperature should be about 190-200f. and the top of the loaf should look golden. My loaf took about 35 minutes, but was a little on the small side.
If you're anything like me, you'll probably spend the next fifteen minutes bouncing up and down and wringing your hands together in anticipation of slicing into your freshly baked bread. Do your best to let it cool a bit before cutting - or do what I did and make pesto!
So, I had a bunch of basil and some pine nuts left over from the tomato-basil pesto I made the other day, and figured what better way to use it than in a simple, classic, Basil and Pinenut Pesto?
ingredients (these are approximate, as I kind of just threw everything into the food processor)
1 1/5 cups lightly packed fresh basil
1/4-1/2 cup lightly toasted pine nuts
1 head roasted garlic (entire bulb, oven roasted)
1/2 - 3/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
Salt, to taste (Kosher)
In your food processor, combine all except olive oil and salt. Pulse a few times, then set it on high and drizzle in olive oil until you get the consistency you want. You may need to scrape down the sides of your food processor a couple times. Do a taste test, and salt as needed.
Note: A fun way to brighten it up might be to zest/juice a little bit of fresh lemon into the pesto. I haven't tried it, but I think I will next time.
After a half hour, I sliced into the bread to reveal a soft, still-warm interior beneath its (surprisingly) hard crust. The crumbs resulting from said crust had no intention of staying on or anywhere near the cutting board, so beware while slicing it. My loaf didn't have as much rise as I'd hoped for, and didn't result in the 'open crumb' style I was expecting from reading other's experiences, but that may have to do with the addition of whole wheat flour.
I spread on a hearty spoonful of pesto and sunk my teeth into crispy/chewy/warm/tender deliciousness. Mmm - who says simple and rustic can't be wonderful?
Need I say more?
This bread would be great with a soup or stew, or warmed up and eaten with a pat of butter, or jam. It's a little too crusty to be the kind of loaf you'd just tear into, but if you like a crunch to your bread this recipe will definitely do the trick.
(Update: the next day the crust had softened to be much chewier and less crumbly - definitely tear-into-able)