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You know the running joke that every food blog has to tell the life story before they cut to the chase and give you the recipe? Yeah, this is one of those. We’re talking about baking bread, and for most beginners, the thought of baking bread is terrifying. I’m going to walk you through all the extra tidbits of information that are SUPER helpful when you’re first learning. If you are a “just the facts” person, feel free to jump to the end.
TL;DR version – this bread is so simple to make and you can do it. It’s 4 ingredients, basically 3 steps, and done.
For the rest of us, it’s story time.
You may know me as Tara, Interior Designer, but to my friends and neighbors I am mostly, Tara, the lady who makes the bread. I’ve been a decent cook since early in our marriage after a binge-watching Food Network weekend catapulted me into the kitchen, but bread baking had always been my Everest. Try as I might, it was too difficult for me to get right. All of that effort and ingredients would 100% of the time result in a loaf so hard, dense, and inedible that it would be thrown out after one pity slice was consumed.
Then COVID happened.
Suddenly, 2 things changed. 1) no bread in the stores, and 2) no weekend activities. I made it my life’s mission to master bread making. To find at least ONE style of bread that I could reliably make that would be at least as good as what I used to be able to get in the deli section of the grocery store. I tested and tested (and tested) countless recipes until I finally found the right fit. Then the heavens opened up and the angels rejoiced.
Friends, if you have ever wanted to be able to make bread without a bulky bread maker or stand mixer or endless minutes (which feel like hours) of kneading, THIS is the recipe for you.
It is simple – just 4 ingredients.
It is easy – zero kneading required.
It is versatile – you can throw cheese in it, herbs, bacon, roasted onions, roasted garlic cloves, just about anything. But 9 times out of 10 I keep it just to the 4 main ingredients.
It is a transformer - you can make different styles of bread with this dough. I’m going to show you the classic artisan loaf version today, but you can also make this into baguettes, and countless other shapes!
It is delicious – this artisan style bread is good enough to be served at any restaurant or bakery.
It is flexible – if you’ve ever tried to make sourdough or other breads that have very complicated rise times, you will adore this recipe. The first rise can be anywhere from 2 hours to 12 hours, so you can adjust it to your schedule.
While it doesn’t require you to have a bunch of special equipment, but there are a few things you’ll find helpful if you pick up the bread habit – which you will after you make this. You need a bowl and a spatula for sure. I’ll bet you already have those!
Extra helpful tools are a Dutch Oven, Instant Read thermometer, and parchment paper.
If you don’t have a Dutch Oven, first of all, you should get one because they are good for everything. But even if you don’t, you can bake this bread on a cookie sheet; it will just have a thicker crust.
The thermometer is amazing to have for any and all baking and cooking because it completely eliminates the guesswork of “is the bread ready? Is it done in the middle?!?” The thermometer doesn’t lie. I’ll link all the ingredients and equipment at the end of the post!
Parchment paper – this keeps the bread from sticking to the Dutch oven, and makes it easy to transport from the bowl where it rises to the Dutch Oven without losing its shape.
TIPS ON THE METHOD
It always drives me crazy when you’re trying to learn a new skill, search Pinterest for a tutorial, and all you find are instructions written by people who live and breathe the stuff and don’t realize they’re using jargon that regular people don’t understand, or are leaving out huge helpful pieces of information that they assume their readers already know. I’m going to try my best NOT to do that here! I want to give you the knowledge you need to get the confidence that you can do it, because you totally can do this.
The method couldn’t be simpler. You stir the 4 ingredients in a bowl, and leave it covered with a tea towel to rise for 2 hours or up to 12. You literally just stir it until it is no longer a bowl of flour, but a shaggy dough (image below on the right), and then stop.
Shaping it can be as easy or complicated as you want. My favorite way is to pull it out onto the counter (I throw a little bit of flour on the counter so it doesn’t stick), and pull the sides of the bread up to make a ball shape. I don’t overwork it or try remotely hard to make it pretty. In the same bowl I made the dough in I lay a piece of parchment paper, plop the dough back in, and let it rise one more hour covered with a tea towel. See the video below. SO EASY.
Left - the dough after the first rize; Middle - the dough after I've pulled up the dough from the bottom to the center (see the video); Right - I put a sheet of parchment paper into the same bowl, but the dough in seam side down, and cover for the final 1 hour rise.
During that second rise I preheat the oven to 450° with the Dutch Oven inside, lid off. That gets the Dutch Oven nice and hot which makes for a great crust. When it’s time to bake I pick up the dough with the parchment and gently set the paper+dough into the Dutch Oven, put the lid on, and back into the oven for half an hour.
Bake with the lid on for 30 minutes, take the lid off, and bake for 10 more. Check the internal temperature of the bread – you want the inside to be between 190° and 200° F.
Then take it out and let it cool on a wire rack. Yes, I recognize that is a piece of equipment and I didn’t list it above. You can set it anywhere really, it just helps to let the air get under it.
MY FAVORITE INGREDIENTS
A few notes on the ingredients. As I mentioned, there are only 4 of them! This recipe is a type of ratio baking – easy numbers that are easy to multiply or divide. 4 cups flour, 2 cups water, 2 tsp salt, 2 tsp yeast. So easy that I have it memorized and don’t have to consult the recipe ever, which is always a plus!
For the flour, you can use regular old all purpose (or AP) flour. You can also use bread flour. I tend to use whatever I appear to have the most of on hand. You could also use wheat flour, but I would only do a cup or two of that and then the rest AP or bread flour for a better texture. All wheat flour is too dense for me.
On the yeast, you want to look for Instant Dry Yeast. The recipe calls for 2 teaspoons, which is just under the standard yeast packet size (2-1/4 tsp). Honestly if you throw the whole package of yeast in there, it’s going to be fine because this recipe is super forgiving. I buy my yeast in large containers and store it in the freezer so that I always have some on hand when the urge to bake strikes.
For the salt, I typically use Kosher. Sometimes I’ll do a teaspoon of Kosher salt and then a heaping teaspoon of seasoned salt for some extra flavor (heaping because some of the salt is, as the name would state, full of seasoning, so you need a bit extra to get the right amount of salt in there). I linked my favorite seasoned salt at the end of the post.
No magic to the water. Tap, filtered, anything goes. I warm mine for 75 seconds in the microwave and the temperature is just right (our goal is 110°-120°). I do test it with my instant read thermometer to be sure it’s not over 120°; you don’t want to hurt the yeast!
I loathe having to do complex mental math gymnastics to figure out when to start my bread so that I can have it in time for dinner. Life is too busy to plan your life around baking times! Thankfully, there is precious little of that in this recipe.
If you’re totally new to bread baking, some helpful info. Most breads have 2 rises. The first rise isn’t at all about the bread shape, and is just about the yeast having time to activate, develop gluten, and bubble up the bread. Then you knock the air out (sometimes people call this punching the bread; I don’t get that aggressive) and you shape it into the loaf shape that you want for that second rise.
Since we aren’t kneading this bread – which is the typical way you develop gluten that gives the bread it’s texture – that first rise needs more time for the yeast to work. You want at least two hours, but you can leave it for up to 12 hours.
Here are a few sample schedules for how I typically make this bread. I work from home so have the flexibility to make this any day of the week. You can adapt it to work for your situation.
The rhythm - stir ingredients together, 2+ hour rise, shape and 1 hour rise, bake for 40 minutes. Here’s how that can look:
Stir the dough together at noon on my lunch break, let it rise until about 2 PM, shape it and let it rise an hour, bake at 3PM, ready well ahead of dinner time.
Stir the dough around breakfast time, let it rise until the kids get home from school at 3 PM, shape the dough and rise again, bake at 4 PM, ready and warm for dinner at 6.
Stir the dough before I go to bed, wake up and shape it while the coffee brews and let it rise an hour, bake off at 8 AM, ready for whenever I want it.
Okay, I think I’ve imparted all of my bread baking knowledge! Here we go. The only artisan bread recipe you’ll ever need.
4 Cups Flour – all purpose or bread flour
2 Cups warm Water - about 110° 2 tsp instant dry yeast 2 Tsp Kosher Salt (or combo of Kosher and Seasoned Salt)
In a large bowl, stir the flour, salt, and yeast with a rubber spatula. Add warm water and stir until the water is totally absorbed by the flour. The dough will be shaggy. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave it to rest for 2 hours (or up to 12 hours).
After 2+ hours, uncover the dough. Toss some flour on your countertop, move the dough here, and shape into a ball by pulling the sides up towards the middle. Line the bowl with a piece of parchment paper and lay the dough ball inside, seam side down. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for 1 hour.
After about 30 minutes, preheat oven to 450°F and place your Dutch Oven inside to heat up.
After the hour of rising is up, place the parchment and dough inside the Dutch Oven, cover with the lid, and bake for 30 minutes covered. Then remove lid and bake for 10 minutes uncovered. The internal temperature of the dough should reach 190°, ideally 190°-200°.
Remove and place on a wire rack to cool before slicing.
And because I love Interior Design and baking, here’s a roundup of my favorite kitchen essentials! I’ve included the things I actually use in my kitchen, along with some other options at different price points.
4. Spoon Rest
6. Vintage Bowl
8. New bowl
10. Measuring spoons
11. Instant Yeast
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