This recipe is a modified version of Bernard Clayton's Cuban Bread. I've tweaked it to get the right consistency. I've probably made this particular bread a couple dozen times because it is easy, quick and delicious AND it's cheap! Ways to make it cheaper? DO NOT BUY yeast in packets or those teeny tiny jars. Go to a health store and buy it in bulk (might be in a bulk bin or in a bulk package). You will cut the cost of yeast down by 75%. Just be sure it's not nutritional yeast or brewers yeast, but active dry yeast.
6 cups bread flour (you can use all-purpose flour too)
2.5 cups hot water (120-130 degrees)
2 packets of yeast OR 5 teaspoons of active yeast (rapid rise)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon of salt
That's it - nothing else.
So, how to make it:
First mix 4 cups of the flour, the yeast, sugar and salt. Add the water (don't worry, you will not kill your yeast. Mix that in your mixer (or by hand) for 3 minutes. (Please follow your mixers directions for bread so you don't kill your machine!) Then add the remaining flour a half cup at a time. Once all the flour in incorporated, mix/knead for 8 minutes. It should look like this:
Cover the bowl with saran wrap (or with a lid). Let that rise from 15 minutes to an hour until it's doubled in volume. How fast it rises will depend on your yeast, the room temperature and just the quirkiness of bread baking. I usually put it in a warm place if I can.
Once it has risen, divide the dough into two equal pieces. Now... here is where it's tricky. Now you are going to form it into a ball and create tension. I have a granite counter top so I rarely need to add flour to the surface - try to avoid adding flour to breads when you shape them (if you can help it) as that can dry it out. Here's a great tutorial on how to shape this loaf, called a boule: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmTPL2J8OZk You don't want to sprinkle flour on yours once it's shaped though as yours is not going to proof in a basket.
Next step. Scoring the bread. On a loaf of bread that has been rising, this is tricky. On a loaf that you have just shaped? easy peasy! Take a serrated sharp knife and create some deep slashes (Don't cut all the way through or halfway through, but do cut it). It will start to immediate open. That's good. When it bakes, it will spring up in there and will leave your loaf with a nice artisanal look. Here is a video on various slashes. it shows how deep: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYl5mCqY_L8. I do just three or four slashes on my bread - either three parallel lines or three or four near the center radiating out (see loaves below).
Scoring and slashing are not just for looks though. A good slash will prevent your loaf from doing something like this (this loaf was in a pan, but without slashing, it can happen to ANY bread). A bread will expand at the point of least resistance. You want it to be through your slashes. Not the side of the loaf like a hernia.
Get a cup of HOT water (boiling would be fine, but not necessary) and put it on a spare cookie sheet (with a rim) in the bottom of your oven if your elements are covered or the lowest rack if your elements are exposed. This will provide steam for your bread so it will form that artisan crust. I have some old yucky cookie sheets that I have kept just for that. You want it to be a large pan so that the water has a chance to boil and evaporate - a pizza pan (with sides) would work well too. Do you NEED to add water to the oven? No. You will still get a nice loaf, just not as nice of a crust on it.
Now, the super, duper easy part about this bread and what makes it so fast is that your dough is now ready to go in the oven. You read that right. Do not let it rise after shaping and scoring. It does the final rise in the cold oven while heating up. Place that firm boule where you've created that great tension on a cookie sheet with either silicone mats, parchment paper or sprayed with baking release spray. You can put both boules on the one cookie sheet. Place the cookie sheet with the bread in the middle of the cold oven. Make sure there's nothing above it so that your bread can rise! Now turn on your oven to 400 degrees
DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN while baking especially at the beginning or you'll release the steam from the oven. Bake until the internal temperature is around 205-210 degrees or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. That bakes, for me in about 45 minutes.
When it's done. It might look like this:
I will say though that it looks different every time. This particular loaf was baked in a traditional oven. Sometimes I bake it in the convection oven (I have double ovens - one is convection, one is not).
When I bake it in the convection oven, it doesn't get the same kind of crust (as the steam gets blown out of the oven. It might look like this, instead: Note the lack of sheen?
I will also state that sometimes it doesn't grow all nice and pretty - loaves are unpredictable, but they will taste the same!
There you go. An easy, beginners loaf that is simple, inexpensive and FAST.