bread for tomorrow – the no-knead loaf
Did you know that ¼ teaspoon of yeast can rise a loaf’s-worth of dough just as well as a tablespoon? It’s true. It will simply take longer for it to do so. But there’s a real beauty in that. The old adage good things take time applies. With each extra hour the yeast grows, it adds incredibly to the flavor of the finished loaf. So, though some recipes for home-baked bread will have you adding nearly a tablespoon of yeast, and sugar for it to feast and grow quickly on, and have you rising the dough in a warm place, that’s meant for your convenience and to hurry the process. If you slow it down, you’ll love what happens!
This may be the easiest – and possibly one of the most delicious – breads you’ll ever bake. Start it today, finish it tomorrow, and there will be curtain calls and encores in your future! Do I exaggerate? Occasionally, I have, yes. But here, no.
For full-effect, a true Dutch oven is required for this. Cast iron is best because it creates its own highly-conductive little furnace to bake the bread in. Higher-end brands like Le Creuset or Staub are lovely and come in many colors. But just as effective here are non-enameled (lidded) cast iron pots that you might see hanging over a campfire. The latter are inexpensive but require a bit more care in the cleaning, curing and preventing of rust. Always nice to have options though.
I’m sorry to repeat myself, but a digital kitchen scale makes this process so much simpler too, and with fewer things to clean up after. (See preceding posts if you haven’t already.)
This method (ingenious really) was first developed and introduced to us several years back by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. Since its introduction, this No-Knead method has rather revolutionized home bread-baking. Without terrifically expensive ovens (the kind of which are almost never seen in home kitchens), this bread’s crust wasn’t reproducible at home before. You can see for yourself though, loaves reminiscent of old-world bakeries can now emerge steamy and fragrant from our own rather ordinary ovens.The secret lies in the steam that’s created and contained within the Dutch oven as the bread bakes.
This bread will cost you the equivalent of 3 cups of good-quality flour. We won’t calculate the cost of ¼ teaspoon of yeast or a spoon of salt. Let’s just say this gorgeous bread costs less than a cup of coffee or tea (even a very bad cup.)
Let’s get started.
No-Knead “Artisan” Bread
and you are the artist!
- 3 cups (375 g) flour (either all-purpose or bread flour)
- ¼ teaspoon instant or active dry yeast
- 1¼ teaspoon salt
- 1½ cups (375 mL) water
- Extra flour, wheat bran, fine cornmeal, as needed for dusting
a NOTE on the weight measurements, this primarily for the readers in the States who are as yet not as familiar as we will one day be with metrics. One beautiful thing about the metric system is that grams and mL’s are virtually interchangeable. In other words 100 mL’s of liquid will weigh 100 grams. Don’t you love that? That makes it possible to weigh out water measurements instead of the more approximate method of filling a glass measure where “a tad above-the line, below the line, eye-level” all makes a difference. Weighing is exact, every time. (If you have a scale, it will likely convert US measurements to metric with a button-push, but just fyi 375 grams = 13.25 ounces.)
In a bowl, mix the flour, yeast and salt. Stir in the water to blend. If using a scale, place bowl on scale and zero it out. Add 375 grams flour. Add yeast and measure out salt. Zero the scale, and add 375 mL (or grams) of water. Mix loosely. (It will finish the process of blending as it sits.) What you’ll have will be a bit wet, shaggy and messy-looking. Cover bowl with a tea towel and allow to rest (and grow!) for 12 to 24 hours. (If you choose a cooler place, the process will likely take 18 to 24 hours. Room temperature, more like 12 hours.) When the dough is dotted with bubbles and very alive-looking, you’re ready for the next step.
Generously flour a work surface. Dump the contents of the bowl out onto it.
No need to knead, but simply fold the dough over on itself several times. Cover it with a clean towel and allow it to rest for 15 minutes. (Dough that rests like this is much more workable.)
(This next step feels so good!) Using only as much flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to your fingers, shape the dough as follows:
Fold in thirds (as if you were folding a letter for an envelope, one fold, then another.) Rotate the loaf, then fold each longer end in again. (You’ve made roughly a square shape with rounded corners.) What you have facing you is the seam that will open later, upon the final rise in the oven.
Lie another towel on your counter and cover with a generous amount of flour, wheat bran or fine cornmeal and then place the dough on it, seam-side down. Be sure the flour extends beyond the borders of the bread as it will be growing. The reason for the generous amount of flour is that you do NOT want the bread sticking to the towel when you go to invert it into a hot Dutch oven. Dust the dough with a little more flour then cover with a tea towel and allow to rise about 2 hours. In these two hours the bread will have more than doubled its size.
About half an hour before the dough is ready, place a 5½ to 7½ quart Dutch oven with its lid into the cool oven, and then preheat to 450ºF (230°C.) When the dough is ready, remove the Dutch oven from the oven, and place it on a hot pad or trivet. Carrying the risen dough IN the towel, with your hand underneath, carefully invert the loaf and drop it into the Dutch oven. The seam will now be on top. It won’t look terribly pretty at this point, but not to worry a bit! Give the Dutch oven a gentle shake to help settle the bread more evenly, then return the lid to the pot and return all to the oven. Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on. Remove the lid and bake for another 15 to 30 minutes. (Time will depend on whether you’ve placed your loaf in a larger or smaller Dutch oven. The smaller will give you a higher loaf and require a bit more time to cook.) The loaf will be nicely browned when done and the internal temperature will be 200-210°F (93° to 99°C.) Remove from the Dutch oven and allow the bread to cool (completely if you can, so as not to disturb the environment inside.) Bon appetit and full delight!
I want you to know that when I inverted this loaf into the Dutch oven, the dough stuck to the towel it was on. Yes, not enough flour (the very thing I warned you about.) I had to tug on the dough where it was stuck, breaking bits of it with my fingers, before it finally landed upside down in its pot. Did it hurt it? Oh, a little. Not quite as tall, not quite as pretty, and it didn’t break open at the top like it normally does. But will we eat it, and will we love it? Oh my, will we! The reason I point this out is that you really can’t mess this bread up unless you’re trying hard to.
And why would you go and do a thing like that?
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I’ll likely make another loaf in a few days and insert a photo of it looking its gorgeous best.