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The easiest bread recipe ever

The directions for baking this no-knead bread quickly travel from cook to cook.

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THE CREATOR: James Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York. His recipe has swept the country.

Paul Treacy/Sipa Press/NEWSCOM

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Every so often a recipe crosses my path that is too good to keep to myself. If it's straightforward to prepare and success follows, I spread the word to food-loving friends from Boston to California. Which is exactly what happened recently after I tasted a memorable rustic bread at my sister-in-law Ruth's home in Wisconsin.

With just four ingredients – flour, water, salt, and a measly 1/4 teaspoon of yeast – it could certainly be classified as basic. But it was also remarkable for its flavor, textures, and the unusual method used to make it. Moist and chewy inside with a crisp crust that shattered when I bit into it, the bread reminded me of the best Italian and French loaves I've bought from big-city bakeries. Only this creation came from my sister-in-law's oven, her Dutch oven to be precise.

When Ruth was ready to make this loaf, I kept her company in the kitchen as she measured the ingredients into a bowl. Then I watched as she mixed them all together to form a shaggy mass that did not appear to have a promising future. Unlike most bread doughs, which are kneaded till satiny, this dough was neither smooth to the touch nor kneaded. In fact, it was stickier than any dough either of us had ever handled.

Although tempted to add more flour and yeast, we resisted the urge to obey years of bread-baking instincts and faithfully followed the remaining directions. We let the dough rise overnight as instructed. Then we formed it into a ball, waited while it rose again, and baked it inside a steaming-hot Dutch oven.

When we lifted the lid 30 minutes later, we were amazed to see a gorgeous, golden round loaf sporting professional looking splits across the crown.

In another 10 minutes, we pulled the boule from the oven and listened to the crust crackle as it cooled on the counter.

Since then, I've admittedly gone a bit daft over this no-knead bread and tell anyone who will listen about it. I bake it twice weekly so our supply doesn't disappear. I give slices slathered with butter to my neighbors, my hairdresser, and our favorite waitresses. I bring along a loaf whenever friends invite me and my husband over for a meal.

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