Bread for Beginners

Reading Seth’s interest in getting started with bread (see comments on my Friday post) got me thinking about the best first-time bread.  I started with the no-knead recipe from Cook’s Illustrated and was really blown away by the look and taste.  Plus you are required to drink beer for this recipe!  Well, you could pour it down the drain after you take out a little for the recipe, but come on, is it Prohibition out there?  Come on, who’s with me?!


Anyway.  I’ve added the Cook’s Illustrated recipe to my photos section.  But I will recommend some changes.  First, if you don’t have a crock pot, don’t worry.  Here’s what to do instead:


  1. Follow the recipe as written right up to the oven preheat stage. 
  2. Put your pizza stone on the middle rack, and a cast iron skillet on the bottom.  Preheat the oven for a full hour with these things in them.  If your skillet is seasoned, it will smoke like hell.  You can try using a plain aluminum (not non-stick!) baking pan.  But I had steam blow pinholes out the side of my pan, so try to use something indestructible.  Nobody said this wasn’t dangerous.
  3. A few minutes before you’re ready to put the bread in, boil 2 cups of water in the microwave.
  4. Your dough has been rising on parchment paper in a colander or frying pan.  Lift it onto your pizza peel and dust the dough with flour and slit the top as indicated.  If you don’t have a peel, use an upside-down cookie sheet.  You want a big flat surface with no lip so you can slide the paper (with dough on top) onto the pizza stone in one quick movement.
  5. As soon as that dough is on the stone, pour the hot water into the skillet and shut the door.  Be careful doing all of this!  Hot steam and spattering water will go everywhere.  This will be like the game Operation—if you pour water on your pizza stone, it will crack.  But a cracked stone still works perfectly fine.
  6. Cook the bread straight through for about 45 minutes, then start checking the temperature.  I would rotate the bread halfway through to make sure it’s baking evenly.
  7. When the temp reads 210, the bread is done.  Take it out with your bare hands, you sissy.
  8. Empty the water out of your skillet or it will rust. 


The end!  Actually, it’s the beginning.  Once you smell and taste your own bread, you will want to make more.  The no-knead bread is really easy and incredibly rewarding.  This recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated and is copyrighted.  Finally, if you want a really dark and hardcore crust, add a teaspoon of honey to the ingredients.  I’ll be interested in hearing how this method works, as I haven’t tried it myself since I have a crockpot.  But it should work.  Trust me.

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5 comments on “Bread for Beginners
  1. SRWood says:

    Awesome! I can't bear the thought of cracking my pizza stone: It has cooked countless cinammon rolls, pizza, and other delectables and has been my companion lo these many years. But no need: I shall use my Dutch oven! I think we have the exact Tramontina one pictured in the article. Dark beer produces "a strange spicy, fruity aftertaste and smelled like beer"? That's a bad thing? Question: at what point do you punch the dough? Isn't that part of it? I'm not sure what I mean by "it."

  2. psoutowood says:

    Yes, I was tempted to use Guinness instead of a lager, but I'd rather let the pros test it and fail. Re punching: It's mostly needed to get out gas bubbles from the first proof (rise). If you feel the need to punch, hit yourself in the gut, then take an extra-deep swig of beer. Bread, man-style!

  3. SusannahB says:

    My standby cake recipe is the fabulous

  4. psoutowood says:

    I wouldn't mind getting that. Homemade cakes are always better. Thanks for commenting!

  5. Wendy says:

    Thanks for posting this and the No Knead article–I'd tried the NYT version and failed miserably. I actually should have this issue somewhere, but one of the reasons we switched to CI online was our subscription to the print issue showed up so sporadically, and I got tired of calling them. I'll take another run at it, homemade bread is the bomb-diggity.

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