No-Knead Bread

by Anne Bennett on December 12, 2014

bread

I baked an oblong loaf this morning and slashed it twice on top with a sharp knife before it went into the oven.

One of the most popular recipes ever published in the New York Times is for a no-knead bread developed by commercial baker Jim Lahey. This loaf can be baked at home with very little hands-on effort, which sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it? I mean, bread requires kneading and rising and coddling, and who has the time or the skill?

You do, that’s who. This is not only simple, it results in the best hearth-type bread you’ve ever eaten. I may be slinging superlatives but it’s true. You can do this!

To allay your baking fears, watch Jim and Mark Bittman bake bread in this video. Jim’s original recipe is for an all-white loaf but I’ve included his whole wheat version (from his cookbook) below, as I like to get some whole grains into my daily diet. The wheat loaf uses just a bit more yeast because of the heaviness of the wheat flour, but otherwise the recipe is the same. In addition to whole wheat flour, I almost always add 1/4 cup of harvest grains blend that I order from King Arthur Flour. This gives my bread more fiber and a nutty quality that we love.

All you need to bake amazing bread is a 6- to 8-quart Dutch oven with a lid or a round or rectangular clay baker. I have all three and I use them interchangeably.

I know what you’re thinking: how can I bake delicious bread and not eat it all in one sitting? Look, if you want to eat the very best of anything, including bread, you’re going to exercise some moderation. I have always hated that word but I have finally succumbed to its logic. I’ve decided that it’s worth it to have one slice of fabulous home made bread with dinner and enjoy every single bite. Since this is a fat-free French-type bread, it doesn’t stay fresh beyond the first day, so here is what you can do: slice the remaining loaf with a serrated bread knife, bag it in plastic and put it in the freezer. Then you can enjoy single slices of crusty toast for breakfast every morning.  Again, minimal effort, totally worth it.

I strongly suggest that you make room for the staff of life in your daily calorie or WW Points budget. And since Christmas is right around the corner, if you’re short on supplies you can ask for a Dutch oven or a clay baker to get yourself started.

Questions? Let me know. I’ve baked dozens and dozens of loaves and I’ve made every mistake possible (although it’s pretty hard to screw this up).

Life is short. Make room for bread.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose or bread flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 tsp. table salt
1/2 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/3 cups water

Place flour, salt and yeast in a big bowl and add water. Stir with a wooden spoon and then your hands until a soft, sticky dough forms, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 18 hours. (I make my dough in the early evening and list it rise overnight.) Dough will be bubbly and doubled in size.

Dust your work surface with flour and scrape dough out of bowl. 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 and let rise for about 2 hours. At least 1/2 hour before dough is ready, preheat oven to 450 degrees F and put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron or enamel such as Le Creuset) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Cover with the lid and bake 30 minutes then remove lid and bake another 10 minutes or until loaf is dark brown.

Cool on a rack.

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Gayle December 12, 2014 at 7:00 pm

It’s hard to believe bread can be so intimidating! Thanks for the encouragement!

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