Kitchen Intuition: Easy, nutritious, homemade bread

Authored By aliceodea

I’m going to do something really different this week. I’m not much of a baker, but I’m going to share a bread recipe with you, because I feel like I should spread the word about this insanely easy, three-ingredient, no-knead, 100 percent whole-wheat bread that you can make from start to finish in less than two hours.

I don’t bake all that much, for two reasons. First, we don’t do much in the way of sweets or desserts at my house, so even if I were inclined to bake things like cakes, cookies or pies, there would be no one around who is all that interested in eating them. And second, I tend to avoid baking because it’s more of an exact science than the kind of cooking I really enjoy. You have to stick pretty closely to the instructions and have all the ingredients in the proper proportions (otherwise, you end up with results that might show up on one of those “nailed it” Web pages).

But I do so love a good loaf of bread while it is still warm from the oven. I have tried dozens of bread recipes over the years, trying to come up with a foolproof loaf, and I recently stumbled upon a version that comes pretty close. A friend of mine emailed me a link to this Ballymaloe Irish brown bread, but it was just as the summer travel season kicked into high gear last year, so the link sat in my inbox for close to nine months. But last week, I decided to whip up a batch (or at least a close approximation; I didn’t have all the ingredients). I made the first loaf for St. Patrick’s Day, and it quickly disappeared when some impromptu guests showed up. I made another loaf a few days later when we had some more people over. And again, the bread swiftly vanished. People really love this bread, and it’s so easy I can’t stop making it.

I’ve made it three times in the past week, experimenting a bit as I went along, and it’s come out beautifully every time. It’s fast (in bread terms, anyway) and doesn’t require much in the way of attention. The original recipe calls for stoneground whole-wheat flour, but all I had was regular whole wheat, so that’s what I used (you can get wheat flour locally from Sonrisa Farm). It also calls for a bit of white flour, but the third time around, I tried a loaf with all whole wheat, and it came out as good as the first two loaves. Also, the second time I mixed up a loaf, I got a little confused when I was measuring the water and my dough did not seem nearly wet enough. So I just added a bit more water until the dough looked like one of the photos on the recipe website, and it came out fine.

Where I ended up is maybe not quite the authentic Irish bread in the recipe, but it’s a very fine loaf of bread that is simple enough to make on a regular basis. The last iteration I made started with me pouring 450 grams of flour (slightly more than 3 and 3/4 cups) into a bowl and mixing in a teaspoon of salt. Then, I measured out 425 milliliters of warm water (slightly more than 1 and 3/4 cups), put about a third of that into a small bowl, and mixed in a tablespoon of molasses and 2 and 1/2 teaspoons of instant yeast.

From there, things went pretty much as directed in the recipe: After letting the yeast mixture get foamy, I poured it, along with the rest of the water, into the flour and mixed until it was all evenly wet. I gave it 10 minutes to rest and then poured the dough into a glass loaf pan with parchment paper along its bottom that I had sprayed with oil. I smoothed out the top with a wet hand and let it rise-which was quick the first time because it was a warm, spring day; but on the second try, it took quite a bit longer (by then, the weather had gotten quite chilly).

When the dough reached the top of the pan, I put it in a 450-degree oven and baked for 20 minutes, then popped it out and let it bake right on the oven rack for another 15 minutes (the first time, I was worried that it was getting too brown and took it out a little early-too early, I think; I let it cook the full time after that). The hardest part is letting it cool before cutting the first slice.

And there you have it. A really delicious, nutritious loaf of bread in well under two hours, and I didn’t get flour all over the place or have to wash a counter after a sticky, gooey kneading session. I also didn’t need a fancy mixer! I’ve got a loaf baking as I type this, and the house smells amazing (maybe I’ll even manage to get more than a slice of this one before it’s gone). Give it a try for yourself, and let me know how it comes out!

Alice O’Dea has lived in Chattanooga for over 20 years, but was raised among the mucks and dairy farms in rural western New York. She didn’t really learn to cook until midlife. When she’s not puttering around in the kitchen, she enjoys running, cycling, traveling, photography and trying to get food to grow in the backyard of her Highland Park home. You can email her with questions, suggestions or comments at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.