More than a year and a half ago, the NY Times published an article about a “truly minimalist breadmaking technique” thought up by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan. I wonder if Mr. Lahey ever imagined that his recipe (and baking process) would create such a buzz around bread baking? Did he ever think that people would buy Dutch ovens for the sole purpose of baking his no-knead bread? Could he have known that countless blog posts would be flooded with comments and questions about this “revolutionary process” and turn non-bakers into bread baking gods? I’m exaggerating, ever so slightly, here but you all know what I’m talking about.
The first no-knead bread I baked was a year ago, in January 2007, after seeing Deb’s post about the bread at Smitten Kitchen. As many a person had done before me, I hesitated to make the bread because of the “put room temperature dough in a really hot pot” direction; I was afraid my pot would crack because of the temperature variation. But then I decided to try it anyway since the only Dutch oven I have is an old 4-quart oval Vision Ware my mom gave me. You know, those brown Pyrex dishes that were all the rage in the 90’s, well, my Mom got a whole set. If it did break during the cooking process, that could be my excuse to get a new Dutch oven (woohoo!). But, it didn’t break and what I got, instead of a brand new Dutch oven, was the most incredible loaf of bread I had ever baked in my life. I couldn’t believe the crust was so crunchy, it actually crackled while cooling (I am aware a number of other bloggers have noted this but I don’t care, I’m late with this post anyway)! The crumb’s texture was incredible, it was moist and flavorful.
After that first loaf, I went a little nuts and tried “a few” variations: Cranberry-Orange, Chocolate-Raisin, Multi-Grain, different types of flour… I’m telling you, this recipe is so adaptable, you could do pretty much anything you want with it except mess it up! I have to admit though, my favorite “variation” is closest to the original as possible, “au naturel” you might say, strait out of the oven, with steam coming out of the moist, warm bread. I still use the no-knead recipe regularly, especially when I need something to bring to a dinner party. I always get the same reaction: “You MADE that bread yourself!?”. So, if you’ve been on another planet for the last year and a half, or just afraid to ruin your only Dutch oven, here’s your chance to try this recipe! Better late than never…No-Knead Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Flour, wheat bran or cornmeal for dusting, as needed
In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly 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 loosely with plastic wrap and let 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 sheet of parchment paper with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on parchment paper and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for about 2 hours. 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 4- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under parchment paper and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.