I am going to show you how I make my no-knead bread. Well, technically it’s not really “mine” – I got the recipe from my friend Corina (and, simultaneously, from my other friend, Jennifer), while the original appeared in a New York Times piece several years ago. Just like my friend did, I tweaked the bread recipe in my own way.
Now there are several good reasons to bake your own bread. Reason number one: it’s WAY cheaper. Reason number two: unless you reside in an urban center peppered with artisanal bakeries, pulling it out of your own oven is your best bet for getting the kind of fresh, fragrant, crusty bread everyone dreams about.
Now unless you enjoy baking and/or are well familiar with the no-knead bread, you probably associate bread baking with a laborious, physical, time-consuming activity, that, moreover, creates bloody horror of a mess in your kitchen (or is it me projecting?), and indeed it is. Which is why this here was a revelation – the baking schedule is extremely flexible, and would work for a working gal (or guy). For instance, you can mix up your dough in the evening (all in the KitchenAid – no kneading!), and bake your bread anytime during the following day – from early morning to late night. Or you can mix it up in the morning, and bake it that same evening. It all works!
Now that we got the above preamble out of the way, follow me, Reader, into the world of perfect loaves…
Our tale begins late in the night, when good Christian people (as well as those of other denominations) are sleeping soundly in their beds, or are watching John Stewart, or engaging in other similarly pleasurable end-of-the-day activities. All but one…
An industrious housewife is measuring out 6 C of flour into the bowl of a KitchenAid mixer…
Followed by 3 1/2 t of table salt.
Sprinkle 1/2 t active dry yeast over 1/2 C of warm water. Don’t bother stirring it in.
Add to the flour and salt in the bowl, followed by another 3 C of warm water (you’ll end up with the total of 3 1/2 C of liquid – wait, you figured that out already?)
Use your flashy KitchenAid mixer, fitted with a PADDLE attachment, to mix everything together (I wouldn’t go above speed 2), until it looks like this:
Note: You don’t really need a KitchenAid for this – mix everything in a regular bowl with a wooden spoon and you’ll get the same results. Don’t worry about the lumps – the yeast has a way of digesting flour, so it will all be nice and smooth by the time it’s ready to go in the oven. In fact, that’s how my husband does it when he does it.
Next, I really recommend that you get yourself one of these:
This handy tool, known as a “bowl scraper”, makes this whole process much easier.
Now, using the handy bowl scraper (or a rubber spatula, if you don’t have one), shape the lumpy mess into a ball.
Cover with a large plate that fits over the bowl, or saran wrap if you hate the Earth (Just kidding! I like saran wrap).
Go to bed and snuggle up to your honey.
When it is ready to be baked, the dough will look like this – loose, tall, and full of bubbles.
Next, flour your counter nice and good in the above fashion.
Dump the dough out onto the floured surface. Here’s where the handy bowl scraper really comes in handy. But, again, a spatula will do.
Next, you REALLY need one of these – a bench scraper. What would I do without one?
Note: You don’t really need one, but don’t ask me next time how come I make such nice bread.
Using the bench scraper, fold the dough once onto itself.
Repeat once or twice more, until you end up with what looks like the picture above. Isn’t the whole light-and-shadow thing really pretty?
Now this is really difficult to describe in words and still images, but what you need to do next is shape the dough into a loaf by tucking it under itself while turning it around its axis. Does this make sense?
Keep at it, and, in the ideal world, you’ll end up with a cute round loaf. Now there’s something I have to tell you – for all of my imperfections, I am really, really good at this.
Next, cover your loaf with a bowl while you are preheating the oven.
Now for the secret ingredient – the no-knead bread really calls for a dutch oven, inside which it is baked in the 450-degree oven oven. I love the plain cast iron one from Lodge, but an enameled Le Creuset pot will work just fine. Make sure it’s not too large though. And another thing – the dutch oven, really, really needs to have a cover to give the bread its chewy golden crust. You see, it is the steaming that happens under the lid while the bread is baking that makes it so nice. This one only costs fifty bucks, and is handy for other things as well.
As soon as you are done shaping your loaf (or even before you begin), place you dutch oven, with the cover on, into the oven oven, and turn the temperature up to 450 degrees F.
Set the timer for 30 min.
As soon as the timer goes off, take the dutch oven out of the oven oven and place it on top of the stove or some other heat-proof surface. Remove the lid.
Note: you are dealing with the temperatures that are beastly hot. Be careful! Make sure to double-up your hot pads (use two on each side). Now I beseech you, by no means let the hot metal touch your bare skin, or you’ll be branded for life!
Turn the loaf upside down (or, for the initiated, “with the seam facing upwards”).
Now what I am gonna have you do next is pick it up with your handy tool on one side and your hand on the other, and place it into the preheated dutch oven seam side up. That’s what makes the pretty design at the top, and also prevents the loaf from exploding from all of the gas that builds up inside. This here operation requires a certain degree of “courage of your conviction,” to quote Meryl Streep in “Julia and Julia.”
Note that there are other ways of transferring the loaf into the dutch oven – one of them is to set your just-shaped loaf into a skillet on a floured towel (the trick from the Cook’s Illustrated, via my friend Jen), and then just invert the skillet into the dutch oven. This would also conserve your counter space. Moi, however, I prefer to stay away from floured towels, since there’s enough laundry being generated at my house as it is.
Now there it is! If your loaf is unevenly distributed in the pan, just shake the pan back and forth a little to redistribute. It doesn’t matter if it looks like a mess, you won’t be able to tell later! Note: don’t sprinkle anything on the bottom of the pan – cornmeal, semolina, nothing! It adds the unwelcome crunch, and is absolutely unnecessary – the temperatures are so hot that the bread doesn’t stick to the pan as it is. And don’t even dream of greasing it! This is not your conformist loaf pan.
Cover the pot, place it back into the oven, and set the timer for another thirty minutes – the same as the preheating time. Now this is easy to remember: “thirty-thirty,” just like the caliber of the rifle with which I shoot my deer.
In the meantime, you can use your bench scraper to scrape your counter – and, if you are a cheapskate like me, just sweep it back into the flour container. It’s just clean flour anyway. See how nicely it does the job?
As soon as the timer goes off again, remove the dutch oven from the oven oven, remove the lid, and look at your bread. Does it look pale to you? Most likely, it does.
Place it back into the oven, without its cover, for another 5-15 min, or until it looks like this:
Because you are good like that, by now you have your cooling rack nice and ready.
Invert the loaf onto the cooling rack. Remember to double-up your hot pads!
Now turn the bread the right side up with your hot pads.
Or, at other times, you’ll get a loaf looking like that…
And please promise that you’ll wait until it’s cool to cut it open? Otherwise you might find it a little undercooked inside, since the bread continues to cook in its crust for a while after being removed from the oven.
Now you know my dark secret… I am the world’s worst bread slicer! In fact, so much so, that some day it might cost me my marriage!
But it tastes good anyway.
- 6 C flour (I used all white, but you can use a combination of different kinds)
- 3 1/2 t salt
- 3 C warm water + 1/2 C warm water sprinkled with 1/2 t active dry yeast
Mix everything together with a KitchenAid mixer, using a paddle attachment. Shape into a ball and cover. 6 to 24 hours later, when the dough has doubled or tripled in size and the surface is dotted with bubbles, dump the dough onto a floured surface and shape into a loose loaf. Cover with a bowl. Place a covered dutch oven into the cold oven and turn it to 450 degrees. Set the timer for 30 min. In 30 min, transfer the loaf into the dutch oven, seam side up. Cover and bake for another 30 min. Remove the cover, and bake for the additional 5-15 min, or until golden brown. Cool on a rack. Let cool before slicing. Now don’t you just love it? Now praise me.