Very Basic Bread

Total Time:
13 hr 30 min
30 min
12 hr
1 hr

1 loaf bread

  • 1 pound bread flour, plus extra for shaping
  • 1 teaspoon instant rapid rise yeast
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 10 ounces bottled or filtered water
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 quarts hot water
  • Vegetable oil, for greasing the rising container
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Combine 5 ounces of the flour, 1/4 teaspoon of the yeast, all of the honey, and all of the bottled water in a straight-sided container; cover loosely and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.

Place the remaining 11 ounces of flour, remaining yeast, and all the salt into the bowl of a stand mixer, and add the pre-ferment from the refrigerator. Using the dough hook attachment, knead the mixture on low for 2 to 3 minutes just until it comes together. Cover the dough in the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow to rest for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, knead the dough on medium speed for 5 to 10 minutes or until you are able to gently pull the dough into a thin sheet that light will pass through. The dough will be sticky, but not so sticky that you can't handle it.

While the dough is kneading, pour half of the hot water into a shallow pan and place on the bottom rack of your oven.

Grease the inside of a large straight-sided container with the vegetable oil. Place the dough ball into the container and set on the rack above the pan of water. Allow to rise until doubled in size, approximately 1 to 2 hours.

Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it onto a counter top, lightly dust your hands with flour, and press the dough out with your knuckles; then fold 1 side in towards the middle of the mass and then the other, as if you were making a tri-fold wallet. Repeat the folding a second time. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and allow to rest for another 10 minutes.

Flatten dough again with your knuckles and then fold the dough in onto itself, like you are shaping something that looks like a jellyfish. Turn the dough over and squeeze the bottom together so that the top surface of the dough is smooth. Place the dough back onto the counter and begin to roll gently between your hands. Do not grab the dough but allow it to move gently back and forth between your hands, moving in a circular motion. Move the dough ball to a pizza peel or the bottom of a sheet pan that has been sprinkled with the cornmeal. Cover with the kitchen towel and allow to bench proof for 1 hour, or until you poke the dough and it quickly fills back in where you poked it.

Place an unglazed terra cotta dish upside down into the oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine the 1/3 cup of water and the cornstarch in a small bowl. Uncover the dough and brush the surface with this mixture. Gently slash the top surface of the dough ball in several places, approximately 1/3 to 1/2-inch deep. Add more of the hot water to the shallow pan if it has evaporated. Slide the bread onto the terra cotta dish in the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes. Once the bread has reached an internal temperature of 205 to 210 degrees F, remove to a cooling rack and allow to sit for 30 minutes before slicing.

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    This bread is very good but also very sticky. Prepare to use a lot of flour when kneading. I'm going to try adding in Rosemary on my second run-through.
    I use this as the basis for my everyday bread.  
    One thing I have noticed is that Alton Brown always bakes HOT - meaning that his *finished internal temperature* is too hot, and therefore dry, for my tastes. This is true for his breads, cakes, cookies, muffins, quickbreads, you name it. Because he always lists the doneness temp, you can adjust as needed - Yey Alton - instead of the blind "bake for 45 minutes or until done" instructions. 
    I like it pulling this bread out at 185 F. It usually coasts up to 190 F with residual heat, then slowly recedes in temperature over the next couple of hours. As an experiment, leave the oven probe thermometer in the bread for the entire cooling cycle. 
    Alton always accounts for residual heat when cooking meat. I don't remember him mentioning it at all in baking.
    I love Alton, like most of us.. But every single one of his recipes always calls for way too long of cook times.. 
    Whether its frying, or baking, it always seems long. I just made this recipe for the first time, I have a NORMAL, non convection oven.. Pre-heated to 400 degrees, within 15 minutes the crust already had a nice brown finish.. Nice to the point of it being done. 
    I rotated the pan at that time and let it go another 15 minutes (30 minutes in  
    At 30 minutes, I had enough, the bread was turning black.. I checked its temp and it was already at 210 degrees. 
    Its cooling now on the counter on a rack, but I must say, it looks BURNT! and its annoying, after spending so much time on something to have it look black. 
    This bread was in the over for less than HALF of what was called, I would love to send a picture to Alton and ask him "What is up dude?!" BTW, this is a brand new oven, not 3 months old. 
    Years ago I had a fairly high-end bread maker and tried dozens of different recipes and box mixes. None of the scratch recipes ever came close to the best of the box mixes, but the good boxed mixes were nearly as expensive as a loaf of bakery bread. 
    This recipe with the flavor and texture developed by the pre-fermentation is better than any bread I've previously done, better than the bread my mother or grandmother used to make with much finer grain structure and more flavor. 
    I didn't use the mixer, but rather kneaded the bread by hand for about 10 minutes using a rams-head kneading pattern that I use for kneading ceramic clay.  
    Didn't have a terracotta dish, and wasn't excited enough to figure out how to get one home from a home store on my motorcycle, so i just threw a kiln shelf in the oven from my smaller kiln and it worked perfectly, 
    I have prepared this recipe 5 times recently and I love the bread's flavor and its crust. It is so delicious! Also, it's a perfect size for our 2 person household. I prefer to omit the refrigeration step leaving the starter on the counter for 4-6 hours; then I proceed exactly as specified. For the final proof step, I place the dough on parchment paper which moves easily to the oven where I bake it on our pizza stone. It is usually done in 25 minutes. The instant read thermometer is very helpful, too. Tasty!
    Tasty but tough to handle. 
    I used bread flour, weighed ingredients, carefully followed each step, added extra flour to handle (about 1/3 c in all, kneaded appropriate times, allowed to rest appropriate times, and still I get a spreading blob at final step. The 'tighten up' never happens. I get a nice low profile free form loaf that tastes good. Oh, well. Pans for me and no nice crust.
    Thank you Alton! I am 61 and been baking bread for years. I have Williams Sonoma bread baking book but without your techniques i could never get a nice, crusty, brown, tall, loaf of bread. Even williams sonoma says splitting the top is decorative. As you showed me that is not the case. What is smooth and elastic? what does that look like? You showed me. The cornstarch wash makes a perfect crust. Thank you!
    the best bread I have ever made. Made some mistakes and did not have the terra cotta base (its winter and the local hardware is out dah but it still had an excellent chew. The youtube videos (pt 1-2 is invaluable in helping to explain the steps. Alton was/is always spot on with his cooking instructions
    Tastes good, but yes it's basic. This was my first bread and it was probably a good starter recipe, but I'll likely look for something more adventurous for next time.  
    I didn't have a pizza stone or ceramic pot base, so mine baked on the bottom of a large cast iron skillet turned upside down. I also don't have a pizza peel, so I did the final rise on parchment and slid it off a poly cutting board. Both of these substitutions worked out quite well.
    Tastes good, as far as basic bread goes. I agree with Alton on soaking the flour overnight as a preferment, to help hydrate the gluten, instead of using the straight dough method. But he is really over complicating a simple bread recipe.
    This recipe was simply fantastic. Google the video on youtube and watch it - definitely helps to see the technique and what the dough should look like at various stages.
    This bread was AMAZING! It was as good as I remember my grandma's as being. Did I mess up? Yes. But it still turned out beautifully! I did use a pizza stone to bake on instead of the terra cotta pot but it worked wonderfully. I didn't have to use the cornmeal either- it just slid right off. I'm glad this recipe takes a little preparation time,otherwise I would be eating a loaf a day!
    YUMMY!!!! This was AMAZING (even though I messed up so much ...). Firstly, I do not have a food scale, so I had to google all the equivalents and do my best to keep it accurate. I also do not have a stand mixer, I kneaded the dough by hand (I also added too much flour because it was not sticky at ALL and it was very hard. I couldn't get it to the point where it would stretch out for light to come through, so I made it into a ball and left it to rise. It took 2 1/2 hours to rise the first time. I took it out and 'knuckled' it and rolled it into a pathetic ball...after letting it rise and doing the box cuts, I put it in the oven on an inverted cookie sheet (no terra cotta...) and cooked it for around 30 minutes (no thermometer). I took it out and did not wait a second to dig in!! 30 minutes? REALLY? I had it fresh from the oven ... it was PERFECT and I ate about half the loaf right there!!!! I strongly suggest this recipe - it is very hard to go wrong!!!
    Alton Brown has crazy mad food science skills. And his explanation of why one should use Rapid Rise yeast, combined with cold temperature was enlightening. His trick for keeping the dough from enveloping the dough hook by momentarily increasing the mixer speed was nothing short of genius. Alton also suggested using a rubber band to mark the original dough level ensuring proper rise, a great idea....and the inverted clay pot saucer well....gobsmacked! 
    Unfortunately these "cook notes" weren't in the recipe when I made this boule', I had to hunt the net to find the Dr. Strangeloaf episode. (Suggest Food Network simplify this process). 
    My personal suggestions, wet hands and lightly wet counter when working the dough, really eliminates sticking. 
    It would be nice if this recipe segued into other versions e.g. whole wheat, seeded etc... 
    Another reviewer suggested making multiple poolishes at one time so they're on hand when you want to make bread. A really good, solid recipe.
    While this very basic bread is awesomely tasty with a beautiful crisp crust & Chewy interior, I'll have to go on record for saying that the multiple steps for making it reduced the rating to 4. 
    I added rosemary to mine, and the bread turned out Golden, Brown & Delicious and perfect to eat with some salted butter and a slice of aged Gruyere on top!
    This bread is delicious. I make it in a loaf pan and we use it for our sandwiches. It is easy and delicious. By far my favorite for turkey sandwiches!
    Made 3 loaves of this at my last gathering. Served them with honey butter. They were gone in 30 minutes flat. Ridiculously good bread.
    I am an experienced bread baker and have many books on bread available to me. This is the recipe that I use the most. This is also the bread that my daughter requests the most. I don't have a stand mixer, and the recipe works just fine kneading by hand. I think that this is a great recipe to introduce someone to bread making. Bread making is really all about technique, and the techniques taught here can be used to make more complex breads. The two most important ingredients in bread making are patience and a good scale. If you follow the recipe you are just about guaranteed a delicious, crusty loaf of bread.
    C'mon already, Alton. Basic bread is 4 ingredients, and a couple of rises. Why must you make everything so difficult?
    Although there is a lot of inactive cooking time, in the end it is well worth the wait.
    This bread is great! The directions are easy to follow, ingredients are simple, and the taste and texture is right where you want it. I followed the directions to the letter (almost... more on that later) and the bread was a huge hit with the family. Although... about 14 hours from start to finish and gone in 20 min.
     I followed the directions really closely, but I did make some changes here and there. First, I didn't have a stand mixer and didn't want to go out and spend $300 on one to make bread. So I mixed everything by hand and kneaded the dough roughly 25 minutes to get it where I wanted it to be.
     The second was, I floured an inverted cooking sheet to use instead of cornmeal on pizza spatula. I didn't want to buy the cornmeal just to use for this. A bit of a mistake here. The flour wasn't enough and stuck to the sheet and I had to pull at it and spray the bottom with a non-stick spray. That worked... kinda. The bread deflated a bit while I was pulling at it. Next time will try it with the spray from the beginning or try the cornmeal.
     Third, instead of the terracotta dish, I used the quarry tile. But... I found out it cracked through the middle when I took my bread out. I think that either it was adding the water for steam a bit late in the process or the cold dough caused it to crack. Or... maybe there was a problem with the tile from the start.
     Regardless, it still came out great. Can't wait to make it again.

     This recipe does call for a lot of time and attention, but it is SO worth it. I made the preferment with bread flour but used white whole wheat flour for the rest. The dough didn't rise quite as much as I would have liked (next time will try a bit more yeast?) and I was too impatient to wait any longer than the recipe called for, but the result was an amazing loaf: crusty on the outside, moist and really flavorful on the inside. I am not a veteran bread maker, so I was happily surprised that my efforts produced such a wonderful product.
    This is excellent bread; the only problem is that we don't want to stop eating it! My friends & family LOVE it when I make this bread? Great texture and worth the bit extra to make the preferment! Love to play around with this basic recipe I have found I can make so many other kinds of bread just by changing a few little things. Thanks Alton Brown? Wish I could come work for you!!!
    I love you Alton, but.... This bread took two days, from start to finish nothing worked out. I make French bread yesterday, easy and it came out perfect. I will be deleting this one. Sorry. Debra
    This is an excellent bread, even when made incorrectly. First off, during the 1-2 hour rising period, my dough just didn't rise. Then, when it rose in the the oven, the bottom rose as well, resulting in a roly-poly bread-ball. I can think of 1000 reasons why that happened though. I know that I didn't use the right type of yeast. AND that yeast may or may not have been old. Also, like someone else already stated, MEDIUM may not translate to the middle speed setting on your mixer. I have a 10-20-year-old KitchenAid stand mixer, and it has 10 speed settings, so naturally I set the knead speed to 5. After about five minutes, the motor started making angry hissing noises so I stopped and finished kneading by hand (hope It I stopped it in time to save it; the old girl's part of the family and frankly I don't think anyone would appreciate having to go out and spend $300 on a shiny new one). Also, I didn't use a terra-cotta pot/dish because I forgot to stop by Home Depot during the ingredients run. Instead, my stir-crazy brain (at the point of baking the time was about 4:30 in the morning, there is no such thing as good tv at that time, and fatigue and oreos don't mix) decided that an upside-down baking pan would work just as well (>_> doesn't). But in badly-written conclusion, the finish product was tasty, crusty, and closer to bread than any bread I've made before.
    One of my early childhood memories is that of coming home from school to the smell of my grandfather's fresh baked bread. It's been a long time and I didn't bake bread because I remember it was complicated.
     This recipe is NOT complicated. You don't even need a stand mixer to do it. The bread is delicious. My family loves wheat bread so I replaced half the regular bread flour with whole wheat flour and upped the honey to 4 tablespoons. Fantastic! For my small family, one loaf lasts one week.
     We haven't bought a loaf of bread at the store since I started making this bread. Oh the memories that come flooding back each week as the smell of the baking loaf fills the house!
     Thank you, Mr. Brown! I never thought I would ever be baking my own bread.
    If this is truly basic bread then what more could I need... okay maybe butter. This really hit me right in my spot... Wonderful recipe, wonderful bread. Thank-you Mr. Brown.
    The only problem with this bread is that we don't want to stop eating it! Of course, its so easy & inexpensive to make... As to some of the comments:
     -Yes, the total prep time is long, but its not active working time! It's just waiting & let-it-do-its-stuff time. The long, cool ferment is what makes the flavor so rich. The actual work time is only about an hour or so...not long at all, unless you're impatient...totally understandable with this bread, but its sooo worth it!
     -Yes, the dough is a bit sticky, but you want that for the nice crust. If you add too much flour, it just won't have that wonderful, chewy, crispy crust. That's why he has the water in the oven...moist environment=great crusty bread!
     -And yes, I too would love to live in Alton's neighborhood...but then all I'd do is cook & & cook! Nothing else would get done & I'd gain a hundred pounds in no time! Hmm...could be fun!
    I have tried many recipes and I was never fully satisfied.
     Until now! Best bread i ever tasted
     Thanks a lot
    Love the recipe, but alot of us don't have stand mixers or cuisinarts. Would be nice to know how to do it by hand if you can't afford all the wonders of the kitchen.
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