What self-respecting food blogger could neglect to have a post about Jim Lahey’s famous No-Knead Bread ? Well, probably quite a few, but it made a good opening for this post. I first heard about No-Knead Bread shortly after Marc Bittman featured it on the New York Times web site. It sounded interesting. The only kind of bread that I had ever attempted to make before was the kind where you dump all of the ingredients into the bread machine, push a button and out comes a hunk of bread. Frankly, making real, homemade bread scared me! All that kneading and resting and punching and rising was pretty intimidating. I’ve always considered myself a pretty good cook, but never a successful baker. I was quite content to buy my bread from the bakery, thank you very much.
But then, blog after blog had posts about this No-Knead Bread. Magazine articles were written about it. I saw it on TV. That crusty, chewy No-Knead Bread was everywhere! It had become a phenomenon. I started to feel left out. So, with my culinary reputation (and ego) at stake, I decided to go for it – and am I ever glad I did.
The most difficult part about making this bread was determining when to mix up the dough so that it would be fresh out of the oven in time for our next evening’s dinner. Counting backwards on my fingers, I decided that about 10:00 p.m. was just about right. That way, it would be ready to bake by around 4:00 the next afternoon. It took about 2 minutes to find the right bowl, 2 minutes to mix up the 4 ingredients and another 2 minutes to uncrinkle the plastic wrap needed to cover said bowl. Six minutes. That’s it. Even less if you, unlike me, are not plastic wrap challenged. All that was left to do was wait……..and wait……..and wait.
The next day, after dutifully waiting 16 hours, I completed the next steps of the recipe before baking. While my dough was taking its final nap, I searched for an appropriate vessel in which to bake my lovingly nurtured, yeasty mass. I settled on a 5-quart Le Creuset dutch oven. Afraid of melting the knob on the lid, I unscrewed it and plugged the hole with some foil. In the oven it went for 30 minutes to preheat. Then, I closed my eyes, plopped the dough in the pot, covered it, shut the oven door and made the sign of the Cross. Forty-five minutes later, the moment of truth had arrived.
I removed my pot from the oven, turned the loaf out onto the cooling rack, and marveled at what I saw. It was bread, but not just any old bread. It was the most rustically beautiful bread I had ever seen! Heck, I would even wager that it was the most beautiful bread ever baked on the face of the earth! It was round, but not too round. Tall, but not too tall. It was burnished, but not burned. It. was. magnificent! I couldn’t believe that I had done this. What a rush! I felt like a 5 year-old who just rode a two-wheeler for the first time. So, here it is, my wonderful No-Knead Bread, in all its crackly, crusty glory………………………
We could hardly wait to cut into that loaf. It was amazingly crispy and chewy all at the same time. The crumb was moist and light, with large, airy holes. It rivaled any other bread I’d ever eaten – anywhere.
Since then, No-Knead Bread has become part of my standard culinary repertoire. I usually make 2 or 3 loaves a week. I even went out and bought a special, cast iron dutch oven just for bread. Empowered by my initial success, I have even tinkered with the original recipe a few times, adding a little whole wheat or rye flower to the mix. Depending on my schedule, I have let it sit for as little as 12 hours and as long as 19 hours, with the same great results. With reckless abandon, I have even added additional ingredients to my bread, such as chopped kalamata olives, herbs and sun-dried tomatoes. (Hmm…I wonder how chocolate would work?) I’m telling you, people – you can’t wreck this bread!
Although this recipe is probably among the widely available ones in cyberspace, I am including it below:
Recipe: 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
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
4. 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 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. 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 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.