[UPDATE: I have added lots of photos of the no-knead bread process here.]
I must have been living in a cave for the past few months. Somehow I missed an internet phenomenon, the whole No-Knead Bread excitement, that has been buzzing through the cooking blogs since last November.
The New York Times published an article about a simple bread recipe that requires no kneading and bakes, covered, in a Dutch oven. The resulting loaf was said to be as good as artisan bread from specialty bakeries. The article was accompanied by a video showing the few steps to prepare the bread. Well, this was the shot heard round the baking world, I guess, and thousands of people rushed to snap up all the instant yeast in NYC and beyond.
Before the ink was dry on the last edition of the paper, dough was mixed and left to rise on counters all around the country, and in fact, around the world. A quick trip through Google results for “no-knead bread” provided me with an enormous list of rave reviews. I found no complaints other than the fact that the bread didn’t last long enough!
Because the list of common ingredients is a short one, I had everything on hand. I mixed the dough yesterday at noon, let it rise overnight, shaped the dough at 9:00, let it rise another three hours, and baked it at 1:00 this afternoon. I let it cool for a while and sliced off a hunk. It is good. It is more than good. It is great. I’ve made bread before and have always been somewhat disappointed with the result. If you have a bread machine, you can throw it away and recapture your shelf space.
I didn’t have instant yeast and used Red Star Active Dry Yeast instead. After the night-long rise, I was concerned that it hadn’t risen very much, and in fact, after the second rising it still hadn’t doubled in size as the recipe suggests it should. Nevertheless, the bread turned out great. I will use instant yeast next time and compart the two loaves.
As I read some the internet discussion about this bread, I noticed a lot of debate about the best kind of Dutch oven to use. The high heat required, 450 – 490 degrees F., made some unsuitable due to plastic handles being unable to withstand the hot ovens. With the ingredients being to inexpensive, a little flour, salt, yeast and water, I decided to experiment with a Corningware casserole. No problem at all. The bread didn’t stick, formed a nice crust, and most importantly, tasted like it was straight from a bakery.
This is a very forgiving recipe, unusual for baking. I used the wrong yeast, let it rise 3 hours longer than called for (22 hours for first rising), baked it too hot (475), for too long (50 minutes), and it still was wonderfully tasty. We devoured it in one day.
Watch the video for inspiration. You have nothing to lose but a few cents worth of ingredients. Go for it.
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/4 t. instant yeast (yes, one-fourth teaspoon)
1 1/4 t. salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed
1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 c. 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) on 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 the 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.
A dough scraper or metal “hamburger” flipper makes folding the dough over on itself easy. The dough is very wet, and looks like it won’t hold together. It does. Also, one hint I saw on the internet was to use a clean pillowcase instead of a towel. Because the pillowcase has a finer weave than a towel, it won’t let the dough stick as much. If you put the dough on one end of the pillowcase, you can fold the other end over on top of the dough. You still have to flour it, or dust it with cornmeal or bran.