On Bread

Like bread-making, any mugwump can do it.

— Elizabeth David, “Pleasing Cheeses,” Nova, October 1965.

Real conversation:

“You make bread?”


“You got a bread machine?”


“Then how do you make bread?”


I’ve baked bread as long as I can remember, first with my mother’s guidence and for at least four decades now on my own. Through high school I kept a sourdough starter alive, baking five smal loaves every Sunday as the centrepieces of the next week’s school lunches. Some might argue that I find baking bread to be one of the simplest of kitchen things because of this stupid long experience making the stuff. I would argue, however, that I feel this way because it truly is absolutely dead simple to bake a more than decent loaf of bread with little experience and less effort.

The other day I made a couple of loaves. No kneading. About three minutes of hands on effort. Lots of free time to do other tasks in and out of the house while ostensibly making bread.
Here it is:

Stir together

2 cups of bread flour
1 cup of whole wheat flour
a bit of salt
a spoonful of “instant”yeast

Stir in 13 ounces of water

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and go away for the day or go have a good night’s sleep.

Whenever you get around to it, give it another quick stir.

After an hour or two, divide the lump roughly in half and quickly shape the two bits into elongated lumps on well-floured boards. Cover with plastic wrap. Go away for an hour or two.

Put a couple of heavy cast-iron lidded casseroles or pots or something into the oven and crank it to 450°F. There’s only one in the picture because my sister-in-law had my other one.

A while after the oven and the pots get hot, take the plastic wrap off the loaves, pull the pots out of the oven, take the lids off, sprinkle flour into them, flop the loaves into the pots, put on the lids and shove the lot back into the oven.

After thirty minutes or so, take the lids off and let the bread brown for five minutes.

When the five minutes are up, take the pots out of the oven, lift each loaf out of its pot, scrape the flour off their undersides, and put them on a rack to cool, if you can wait to taste your newly baked bread!

That’s it. Bread the easy, old-fashioned, no machine way. I’ve even baked this bread in a fire pit in my back yard (the cooking time was under ten minutes).
To be honest, I don’t know why there’s any sort of market for bread machines.

6 comments on “On Bread

  1. I agree entirely! No need for bread machines. And good bread is truly the staff (and stuff) of life. A wedge of cheese, some butter (or not), a glass of wine — heaven!

    • I remember a conversation with a suburban 15 year old young lady in a suburban commercial kitchen in the 80s or 90s. She was unaware of the very fact that bread could be made at home. When I had been her age (ten years or so earlier) I was making my sourdough loaves for my lunches. I immediately strolled around that kitchen and found the simple ingredients to whip up a baking soda biscuit (“bannock” in some circles) and slapped it onto the grill, just to make the point 🙂

      And, yes, bread and cheese and wine. . . . Khayyam (as channelled by Fitzgerald) substitutes a book of verse for the cheese and adds a young lady . . . certainly Paradise enow!

  2. lauratfrey says:

    I make bread like this… got the recipe from a Michael Smith cookbook! I’m a little intimidated by sourdough though…

    • I did it all backward – sourdough and experimentation when I was a youngster – lazy simplicity in maturity. But I do think tge no-knead style would be a tremendous entrance point and confidence builder for the novice baker. It’s long resting period makes it a fermented dough, like a one-shot sourdough. And the shaping of the loaves is the beginning point of full-fledged kneading. And you get the magic without a huge amount of repetitive muscle time.

      This and the pizza dough I make are my everyday breads. I’ll happily make others if I have the need, but at this point these two serve my needs. I DID make the abive re ipe into something I flatter myself compares well with the kalamata olive and sundried tomato loaf from the Boulangerie Bonjour on 99th Street – a favourite!

  3. […] of Latin, and travel in youth, when I knead bread  I am connected, to my mother, of course, but, more deeply, I am connected to a man named […]

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