In Spain, to eat a meal, or even a tapa, without bread is almost unthinkable. Even Chinese restaurants serve bread. It doesn't go very well with stir fried rice, but many Spaniards just don't feel comfortable without bread on the table.
I would much rather leave bread to professional bakers, as most Spaniards do. Unfortunately, unlike most Spaniards, I don't have a pretty good bakery just around the corner. So if I want to cook Spanish, I must bake bread.
I've tried serious bread baking books like Peter Reinhart's Crust and Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers and I always go wrong at some point during the many-staged recipes. I worked my way through the famous 14-page (or was it 20?) recipe for French bread in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and made a pretty good baguette, but it was a lot of work--far too much work for day-to-day bread.
So I was very pleased when a friend, who is a serious baker, sent me a link to Mark Bittman's now-famous article for Jim Lahey's no-knead bread. Since then I rarely bake any other kind of bread. (The one exception is a 100% whole wheat bread, for which I use a recipe from Elizabeth David's classic English Bread and Yeast Cookery --the best whole wheat bread recipe I've found so far.)
The Bittman-Lahey recipe is simple and easy. It does require time--24 hours, in fact--but very little work. Mark Bittman later wrote a recipe for Faster No-Knead Bread, which can be made in less than half the time. The flavor isn't the same, but it's a good recipe when you need bread in a hurry.
Over the last couple of years I've simplified things even more. I don't bake the bread in a covered Dutch oven anymore, as the original recipe tells me to. I always managed to burn myself while handling a heavy, 500+ degree pot, and besides it made the crust different than the Spanish country breads I'm trying for. I no longer wrap the dough in a floured cloth, which always made a mess in the kitchen.
I do complicate the original recipe in one way: I go to some lengths to keep the temperature a steady 65-70 degrees during the long rise time. I live in a hot climate--Central Florida--and I have found that keeping the temperature at or just below 70 degrees is extremely important. If it's too warm in the kitchen, the dough will rise too quickly, and the bread will suffer. So if your kitchen is much warmer than 70 degrees, see my post on how to keep no-knead bread dough at 70 degrees.
Is this the authentic Galician country bread called pan de cea? No, but the resulting bread is as close as any we've tried to the best country breads in Spain, and short of ordering some of the pre-baked Spanish breads from La Tienda, which only need 10 minutes finishing off in the oven, nothing could be easier. The crust comes out toasted deep brown, thick, crunchy, and even (by American standards) a little hard. The crumb (the inside of the bread) is firm, irregular, buttery (though the bread has no butter in it), with a slight sheen to it.
Here's the recipe:
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 cup of whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon of yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt
1 and 1/2 cups of cool water
In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon. Add the water and stir to make a ragged dough.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit in a cool dark place, around 70 degrees, for 18 hours. (I have let it sit up to 24 hours without problems, so long as the temperature stays around 70.) Again, see my post on how to keep no-knead bread dough at 70 degrees if your kitchen is warm.
Place a piece of parchment paper on an inverted baking sheet. Rub it down with olive oil. Fold the dough a couple of times. Shape it into a ball. Rub it with a little olive oil, and place it on the oiled parchment. Cover it with an oiled piece of plastic wrap (the same one you used for covering the bowl will do). Cover it with a clean towel. Let the dough rise for 1-2 hours--depending on how warm your kitchen is.
This bread is fantastic cooked in a kamado oven (Big Green Egg).
But it's quite good in a regular oven, especially if you use a baking stone or pizza stone, and even if you don't have a baking stone, it's very good. Regardless of what type of oven you use, preheat it, with a baking stone in it if you have one, to 550 degrees. (You could preheat a Big Green Egg/Kamado oven to 600+). Slide the dough, parchment and all, onto the hot stone. Yes, the paper will burn around the edges. It doesn't matter (though if you're using an indoor oven you'll probably want to trim the edges of the paper so there won't be too much smoke).
Immediately turn the temperature down to 400 and bake for 1 hour, or even up to fifteen minutes longer. The first few times you bake this bread, keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't burn. You may have to turn down the temperature some, depending on your oven. For pan de cea the goal is a long bake and a deep brown crust.
Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool on a rack.
Allow the bread to cool at least 2 hours before slicing it. It's even better the next day, and still great the day after that. Like true pan de cea, the flavor and texture of this bread actually improves for the first few days. It's still great for toast after that.
While typical of Galicia in the northwest of Spain, this bread is fine for all sorts of Spanish meals and tapas.