_Change your life…make bread!

Updates to this page are now at the very end.

 

On November 21, 2006, the New York Times sent a shockwave through the kitchens of America.

Okay, exaggerating perhaps, but it did mark a significant development for the home cook. Mark Bittman wrote about Jim Lahey, of the Sullivan Street Bakery on Manhattan, who had developed a clever technique for making bread that involved minimum effort and yielded a beautiful, crusty loaf of bread. You can see the article here.

This is how the recipe goes:

No-Knead Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery

Time: About 1 1/2 hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 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.

 

I had originally read about this over at Slashfood and filed it away among the myriad things I wanted to try someday. Then I had my first loaf. Made for Thanksgiving by my nephew, Rael. My eight-year-old nephew. A talented and precocious kid that Rael is, but it gives you some idea of how truly do-able this is.

Over the past year, I have been making this bread or some variation of it two or three times a week. As much I admire our local artisan bakeries, this bread is just as tasty, cheaper and easier to get into our house. Besides, it always so satisfying just doing something basic for yourself.

I almost always use a natural, or sourdough, starter for this bread instead of instant yeast. After all, I am from the land of sourdough! There are two cultures I use. One is the “real” San Francisco sourdough culture, composed of the yeast, Candida humilis, and the bacteria, Lactobacillus sanfrancisco. I got this from World Sourdoughs, which is run by a real sourdough collector, Ed Wood. The culture I turn to most often is one from New England that is supposed to be over 250 years old. That one came from Baker’s Catalog, which is the storefront for King Arthur Flour.

Over the past year, I’ve developed my own little idiosyncratic ways of doing things, so here’s how I make no-knead/little-knead bread:

For a 2-pound loaf of bread baked in a 5-quart oval cast iron enamel pot

 
 

My starter is on the loose side as you can see below. When I feed it (every time I take some out) I use about 2/3 cup flour & 1/2 water. I like the consistency to be so that it’s just about at the point run where it’s not going to run off the spoon.

 

 
 
 

I take this much and put it into the mixing bowl (about 1/2-2/3 cup of starter):

 

 
 

Now I feed the original starter with 2/3 cup of flour and 1/2 water. At the same time I add 2 cups of water to the mixing bowl. This way I can stir the starter with a spoon that has not been contaminated with the salt I’m about to add to the mixing bowl:

 

 
 

I like the flavor when I use 1/2 teaspoon of salt for every cup of flour. In this case I add 2 teaspoons of salt:

 

 
 

Next I put in 4 cups of flour (regular, not bread flour) all at once:

 

 
 

Start to stir everything together:

 

 
 

After a minute or two of stirring, it starts to look like this:

 

 
 

Very, very lightly oil another bowl (the oil is so that dough meets little resistance while it rises). Dump the dough into that bowl. It will look very rough – that’s good! Make a note of how much volume it occupies:

 

 
 

Now cover it and let it rise quietly for least 12 hours.

IMGP107711

 

TOTAL TIME SO FAR = 10 minutes

A little note on cleanup: the bowl and spoon will have dough which get really gunky if you go at it with hot water, soap and a sponge. Best is to put cold water in the bowl and use your fingers to gather about the dough. Then do the soap and water thing.

 
 

Rising time: Let the dough rise so it doubles…a minimum of 12 hours. It really needs the long rise so the flavor develops. I like to push it to 18-24 hours. In the winter here, our kitchen stays around 60-70 degrees, so it generally takes a full 24 hours to get the rise this far:

 

 
 
 

Put the dough on a lightly floured board:

 

 
 
 

Pull it:

 

 
 
 

Fold it over:

 

 
 

Repeat this kneading action 10-15 times. (I picked this up from the Cook’s Illustrated Jan/Feb 08 issue, where they take a look at no-knead bread and offer up their own tweaks. It seems to produce a higher rise in my loaves.) Turn the dough seam side down and it looks like this:

 

 
 

Put the dough on some parchment paper (here I’m using some a reusable sheet liner) and put it into a wide pan and cover it for the second rise:

 

After about three hours, take a heavy covered cooking pot and put it in a cold oven. Crank the oven up to 500 degrees and let it preheat for a full hour.

About cooking vessels: Here I’m using a 5-quart Le Creuset Oval Dutch Oven. Just about anything will do. I’ve made baguettes using a double-baguette form Calphalon fish poacher. Rectangular loaves with straight sides and be made with a metal loaf pan placed on a rack in a turkey roaster. The clay La Cloche works fine. I have other, smaller Le Creuset pots in the shape of a heart and pumpkin that work really great. (I have to decrease the flour to 3 cups for these.) Don’t oil or grease the pan. Don’t sprinkle cornmeal on the bottom surface. When the dough hits the very, very hot surface of the pan, the crust caramelizes immediately and keeps from sticking.

 
 

After letting dough have its second rise for 4 hours, it looks like this:

 

(Those with sharp eyes will notice I switched pans. That’s because I didn’t have a pot lid big enough for the big wok.)

 
 

Take some kitchen shears and cut some slashes in the top about 1/2″ deep:

IMGP1087

 

 
 

You can make the cutting pattern anything you want. The idea is to have some control over how the top crust cracks as the bread cooks.

 

 
 
 

Take the very, very hot pot out of the oven. Lift the dough using the parchment paper and plop the whole thing into the very, very hot pot:

 

 
 

Put the lid back on the pan and put it back in oven. Turn the heat down to 450 degrees! Set the timer for 30 minutes. Come back and it will have risen quite a bit and started to brown:

 

 
 

I spray it with water at this point to create a blistered, shiny crust. You don’t have to. Put it back in the oven, uncovered and set the timer for 15 minutes. The reason you want to come back so soon is because the crust will start to brown quickly and you don’t want it to burn:

 

 
 
 

I don’t want to get much darker on the very top so I put a piece of foil lightly over it:

 

 
 
 

Back in the oven for another 15 minutes or so. When the thermometer reads 210-212 degrees, it’s done!

 

 
 

Take it out of the pan and let it cool:

 
 

As you can see, besides the beautiful crust, you get a lovely crumb as well:

 

And there you have it! The hardest part is thinking ahead so that you can hit first and second rise and doing the baking at times that are convenient for you. (You can always slow things down by putting the dough in the fridge for a day.)

Whew, that was a lot describing. I’ve talked some people into trying this and find it helps to have the detail. Making bread this way really and truly is easy. It doesn’t take much active time on your part.

If you live near me and would like some of my starters, just let me know.

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There are a lot of variations and I’ll come back over time to add them, as well as the odd observation or note here. Meanwhile here’s a few:

  • My friend Linda really experiments with her bread. She tells me that if you keep at least half of the flour mixture regular wheat flour, you can use just about anything for the other half. She’s put in steel-cut oats, teff, lots of exotic flours that she had around because someone in her home was wheat-allergic.
  • My friend Barbara made some really yummy bread with rye flour, rosemary and olives.
  • Sometimes I’ll pinch the top of the bread all over before it goes in the oven. For some reason the crust doesn’t crack and it look very cool.

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By the way, as of today, there seem to be about 893 videos on YouTube demonstrating no-knead bread. Here’s a google link if you’d like to check them out:

http://tinyurl.com/2um6d4

Also, the NY Times had a follow-up article a month after the first one with a few tweaks and observations. Link

Updates 3/29/08
– I cleaned up the layout of this page a little bit so that it displays in Firefox a bit better.

– Continuing with Barbara’s idea…I made a few loaves with finely chopped rosemary, dry-cured and pitted black olives, and walnuts. Fantastic!

– I tried making a cinnamon and dried blueberry loaf. It never rose! I guess that’s why you don’t put cinnamon in cinnamon roll dough…it somehow keeps things from rising.

– This winter I started having problems with the bottom crust scorching. Although I have no idea why, things went much better when I kept the baking temperature closer to 425 degrees.

– If you have problems with the center of your bread being kind of wet and you’re sure the internal temperature is 210 degrees, you might need to add more flour at the beginning. This will be particularly variable when using a starter because the ratio of flour to water will change. Try to remember the consistency of the dough when it works and then shoot for that when adding flour and water at the beginning.