No-Knead Bread

So, how’s everyone doing with their New Year’s resolutions?  While I sincerely wish you all the best in your endeavours, I can’t say I commiserate.  I’ve resolved to no longer make New Year’s resolutions.  Because really, things that seem like such a great idea at the beginning of January rarely seem like such great ideas by the end of January.  Heck, let’s get real- they don’t seem like such great ideas by the end of the week. 

And you know what, I’m feeling pretty good about my decision.  Because here I am, a full week into 2012, and I’m not feeling guilty about not following through with some crazy resolution.  I highly recommend it.  But all this not feeling guilty got me to thinking about last year’s resolution.  At the beginning of last year, I decided I would become the kind of person who bakes homemade bread instead of buying it from the store.  I came up with this plan that once every week or so, I’d whip up a double batch of dough (I told myself no big deal, I have a nice big stand mixer…), bake a few loaves, then keep one loaf out for the week and put one in the freezer.  Not only would I always have nice fresh bread, save some money, and avoid those nasty air-filled grocery store loaves, but I could also say the sentence, “Oh, I never buy store-bought bread; I make my own.”

I will give you a moment to stop laughing hysterically at the ridiculousness of this.

Ok, so I failed pretty majorly.  I mean, I still make my own bread every once in a while.  And I enjoy it.  But when I look back at the goal of doing this on a weekly basis (usually when I’m grabbing the 99 cent loaf of white bread from the grocery store shelf), I just have to chuckle.  As much as I’d like to picture myself as some kind of domestic goddess, it just. aint. happenin’.

I’m content now with making a loaf of white bread every once in a while, especially since I got a bread maker from my mom for my birthday last year. Actually, now that I have the bread maker, I probably do make about a loaf of bread a week, at least closer than I got than when I was actually trying.  See, when you take the pressure off, it’s not as hard.

But recently, something got me all excited and giddy about making my own bread again, sans bread maker.  Of course, it falls, once again, into the category of recipes that real foodies have known about for years now.  But I no longer feel bad about sharing things like that with all of you.  Because if it’s new to me, maybe it’ll be new to you, too.  And if it’s not new to you… then why didn’t you tell me about this amazing bread?!

I’m talking about Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread recipe that ran in the NY Times back in 2006 .  The conundrum in describing this bread, for me, is whether or not to lead in with how easy it is, OR how delicious and perfect and crusty and bakery-worthy it is.  Because it’s both in equal measure.  Like the recipe implies, there is no kneading involved- barely a stir, actually.  You basically throw together 4 ingredients (yes, 4, and one of them is water, which barely counts), stir them up, and leave the whole mess for almost an entire day.  No, do not poke it, prod it, check if the yeast is working its magic, nothing.  Just leave it.  The next day you have this perfect bread dough that more-or-less just needs to be plopped into a pot and baked.

This would all be well and good and somewhat boring if it wasn’t for what happens next… out of your oven comes the most perfectly crusty, golden, chewy loaf of bread you can imagine.  From your oven.  The crust is browned to perfection, with those tiny little bubbles in it that hint at its crusty crackle when you’re ready to cut into it, and the inside is chewy, but without the density that homemade bread so often leans toward.  The taste is outstanding, from all that time that you let your dough sit and develop depth and flavor.  In short, this bread is a revelation. 

I could go into detail explaining how it gets this way and the science behind it, but the companion article for this recipe in the NY Times does a great job of that.  (There are also some good how-to type pics on there, in case my pictures just aren’t doing it for you.)  So will you just take my word for it and give it a shot?  All you have to lose is a few cups of flour and a miniscule amount of yeast.  There’s no pressure. You don’t have to resolve to make a loaf of this every weekend or anything. Although you may want to make this again and again… no resolution required.

No-Knead Bread

Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery

 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting

¼ teaspoon instant yeast

1¼ teaspoons salt

Cornmeal or wheat bran (optional)

In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and very sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature.

Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Generously flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover it loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel(or just fold over the sides of the towel if it’s big enough) and let rise for about 2 hours. (I picked up the whole kit-and-kaboodle and plopped it back into the bowl *see below*, just for the sake of tidiness, but it’s not really necessary.) When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from your oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up.  It will look messy, but it doesn’t matter.   Shake the pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.

Cover with lid (remember that the lid is hot from the oven, so use a potholder or something) and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. I usually end up closer to 15 than 30, otherwise the bottom can get very dark. Cool on a rack.

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