No Knead bread – it works
There is something special about baking bread. Something artisanal and historical in creating a fragrant and crusty loaf out of simple ingredients, the same way cooks have been doing for thousands of years.
I have always made bread the traditional way, making the dough, kneading it to develop elasticity and letting it rise long and slow in a warm corner of the kitchen, sometimes overnight in the fridge. I have made a sour dough starter and kept it going for while and learned to bake the bread on stone in a very hot oven with some humidity to create a beautiful crust and chewy crumb.
One thing I have never tried is making the no-knead bread. I have read about it and saw enticing images but somehow it didn’t click with me until now. The other day I came across a recipe for a no knead bread on the NYT and for some reason got the urge to try it. I was amazed by the results. I have made it twice now because I had to tweak the recipe a little (needed less water). A quick internet search showed that all the recipes use the same ingredients: 3 cups flour, 1/4 teaspoon yeast, 1.5 teaspoon salt. That’s it. The NYT recipe called for 1 5/8 cups water and that was too much, creating a dough that was too sticky and didn’t quite hold together (it still worked, I just added more flour). When I made it again with 1.5 cups water it worked perfectly without having to add more flour except for the usual sprinkling and the loaf rose beautifully in the oven (the first one didn’t rise as much, but was still delicious)..
I watched the NYT youtube video of Chef Mark Bitman visiting Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan Bakery in NY, who demonstrated making this bread at his bakery. Lahey, a legendary baker and author of several books on bread says to bake the bread at 500F or even higher if your oven permits. The NYT recipe says 450F. I ended up baking it at 475F and got a beautiful crisp and chewy crust and lovely country style porous crumb.
Here are the secrets to making this bread:
- A long initial rest/rise of about 18 hours. This is when the bread develops the flavours.
- A very hot oven, preheated to 475-500F for an hour before baking.
- A cast iron pot with a lid preheated in the oven until it is very hot.
- Drop the dough into the hot pot seam side up so it has room to expand.
- Bake the bread in the preheated cast iron pot for 30 minutes with the lid on.
- Finish the cooking with the lid off for another 15 minutes to let the loaf turn golden.
- Let the loaf cool for a few minutes before slicing it (as if that’s going to happen).
I would venture to say it’s a no fail, easy to follow recipe. Even if the loaf looks a little different, it’s still delicious.
Adapted from Jim Lahey Sullivan Street Bakery.
3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon instant style dry yeast
1.5 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1.5 cups water
Place flour, yeast and salt in a bow and mix.
Add the water all at once and mix it into the flour by hand or with a wooden spoon. Just mix until combined, there will be flour left on the sides of the bowl and that’s fine. You can leave it in the same bowl (Lahey does), or place it in a clean bowl (I do).
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm spot in the kitchen for 18 hours undisturbed.
The dough will rise and fill the bowl and the top of the dough will be bubbly.
When you are ready to proceed sprinkle flour on the counter and pour the dough onto the floured surface. You will see the gluten in the stringy texture of the dough as you pour it out of the bowl.
Sprinkle a little flour over the sticky dough and fold the four sides over into the center.
Line a bowl with a cotton towel or parchment paper and sprinkle with flour.
Lift the dough and place in the bowl seam side down. You will want the seam to be side up when you bake the bread, so it has room to expand.
Let the dough rest 2 hours.
An hour before you are ready to bake turn the oven on to 475F and place the cast iron pot in the over to heat.
When it’s time to bake remove the pot from the oven carefully and set the lid aside. Sprinkle flour into the bottom of the pot.
Lift the dough from the bowl (it’s sticky, don’t worry about the shape) and drop it into the hot pot seam side up.
Cover with a lid and return to the oven.
Bake for 30 minutes covered with the lid, then remove the lid and continue baking uncovered for another 15 minutes to let the crust brown.
Remove from the oven and carefully lift the bread from the pot and place on a rack.
Let cool a little before slicing (as if….)
Enjoy with sweet butter or olive oil drizzle.