I've had plenty of success with bread over the years, but this might be a good bread for anyone who's had trouble. It seems to be foolproof so far, and has survived any flavor modifications I've made to it, like adding a cup of shredded cheese and cilantro. It's my favorite everyday bread - goes with anything, and lasts a surprisingly long time (I'm honestly not sure how long it takes to go stale, because it hasn't happened to us yet).
I've mentioned it before - when I first started making it, we had it with broiled tomatoes and eggplant confit:
The interior is like a good sandwich bread. The exterior looks crusty, but after the first day, it softens up:
The recipe is from the excellent Beyond the Great Wall, an exploration of the cuisines of the non-Han ethnic groups in China, by Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford.
Kazakh Family Loaf
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 teaspoon yeast
4-5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup full-fat yogurt. It's important not to use low- or zero-fat yogurt, because the fat is what keeps the bread soft. I use Cabot's Greek-style yogurt, which is 10% fat. The yogurt is the key to the whole thing here.
2 teaspoons salt
Knead the bread and let it rest - I use my bread machine to do the kneading, and then let it rise in the cast-iron pot in which it cooks.
The other key is the cooking method:
Preheat your oven to 385. Lightly dust a large cast-iron pot (you may want to halve the recipe if you don't have a Dutch oven) with cornmeal (I also dust the top of the rising loaf with cornmeal, but that's not necessary). Let the bread rise in the Dutch oven until doubled, and then cover and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for half an hour.
Like I said, you can have this with any meal - it's great with tomato sauces, you can sop up stews, you can have it with salad, whatever - and we wind up snacking on it a lot with a little butter or jam or what have you. I had some with pepper jelly the other night, alongside roasted delicata squash and scrambled eggs. Yeah, I know it's a weird combination! It was a good dinner.