Everyone’s talking about no-knead bread. It must have been one of the most gifted holiday cookbooks, according to the abundance of blog posts about the brilliance of this bread. Let me just chime in. This is the tastiest, easiest, most dependable bread I’ve ever made.
Since we first met, Dennis has talked about his grandmother’s bread. Grandma Barrow’s bread, cut THIS thick (thumb and finger about 2″ apart) spread with peanut butter and jelly. These were the sandwiches of his youth, of his dreams, and that bread just vexed me.
I’ve baked bread for years. Decades, in fact. My challah is really good. I learned to make raisin/cinnamon swirl bread in high school, for heaven’s sake. Focaccia, flatbreads, grilled naan, pizza – all easy as can be. Try as I might, I couldn’t manage to satisfy that memory of Grandma Barrow’s bread.
Stir up the four basic ingredients – flour, water, yeast, salt – and let rise very slowly over 12 to 18 hours. Gently fold, let rest, and gently place in a preheated cast iron covered dutch oven.
Take note: While it’s a simple bread, there is one very important, utterly vital, piece of equipment. Maybe you have a big (5 qt) cast iron covered dutch oven somewhere in your kitchen cupboards. Lahey references Lodge, Emile Henry and Le Creuset. Here’s a little hint – every time I’ve been in Marshalls, they have had Staub, Le Creuset or look alike brands at very reasonable prices.
What emerges is a light, airy, hard-crusted rustic loaf. Absolutely fantastic. Ethereal. Crackling. And what Dennis remembers from his childhood.
We did many tests. Dennis jumped in and made bread with me (so fun!) We made the Basic White Bread three times, Whole Wheat Bread twice, and Rye Bread twice. And I’m here to report.
Each time we made the bread, it got better. We needed to develop skills – first, the stirring – the ingredients need to be well stirred, not casually mixed.
Also, the folding stage – flour the towel well by rubbing about three tablespoons of flour into the center of the towel in a circle about 18″ in diameter. Use the heel of your hand to get the flour into the fabric. Brush away the excess. Do not add more flour, if you can help it.
Gently ease the dough out of the bowl onto the floured towel, trying to maintain the gluten strands by easing the dough away from the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula or a bench scraper. Fold the dough gently in half, giving the dough a quarter turn, folding, turning and folding three or four times. Use a bench scraper to help you lift the dough and turn it over, seam side down. Be gentle.
Finally, when it comes time to bake the loaf, it took a couple of tries to center the dough in the middle of the hot cast iron pan, and to learn to let it flip over without panic.
f it ends up on one side of the pot, or upside down, don’t stress out. It’s going to be gorgeous no matter where it lands.
You see, now that I’ve fulfilled Dennis’ bread dream, I will pursue mine – a good sour rye that for the life of me I can only find in New York City.
I’m not done with Mr. Lahey’s book. There is so much more to learn from this technique – he has some spectacular ideas for the white loaf, including one long batard shown with oven roasted tomatoes nestled in the surface of the bread.
The white bread – seriously – is the best all around loaf I’ve ever made. I figured out the timing for our household – I stir the ingredients together after lunch (1:30-2pm) and let it rise overnight. Wake up, fold the loaf around breakfast time. Bake two hours later, and the bread is ready in time for lunch. Of course, I work at home, so this works for me.
For those of you who go out to an office, try this for timing.
7am Stir together the ingredients when your coffee is brewing in the morning. It’s only four ingredients. You can do it.
7pm Turn the loaf out and do the folding part.
8:30Turn on the oven and slide in the covered pot.
9pm bake the loaf.
9:45 You’ll have a fresh loaf that will be ready for breakfast the next day, and for sandwiches to take to work and/or school.
And my final bit of advice. It’s very important to allow the bread to cool completely. Completely. While the idea of warm bread fresh from the oven is intoxicating, in reality, the bread is better if allowed to cool completely.
The Magic Recipe
Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread
Makes one loaf
1/4 tsp dry yeast
1-1/2 c cool water
3 c bread flour (wheat: 2c bread/1c wheat flour; rye: 2-1/4c bread/3/4c rye flour)
1-1/2 tsp salt
Stir together all the ingredients until you have a shaggy, sticky dough.
Cover and set aside for 12-18 hours. The longer this rise, the more rustic and sour the bread.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured tea towel. Lifting with a bench scraper, fold the dough over, turn one-quarter turn, and fold again. Do this three or four times, then turn the entire loaf over, seam side down, and loosely fold the towel over the dough.
Put the towel on a wooden cutting board or a stack of newspapers – not on your cold countertop – and allow the dough to rise for two hours.
Thirty minutes before the end of the second rise, with the rack in the lower third of the oven, turn the oven on to 475• and slide in your cast-iron covered dutch oven.
At the end of the rise, undo the towel and allow the dough to fall gently into the bottom of the dutch oven. Cover it and bake for 30 minutes.
Uncover the loaf and bake for 15-30 additional minutes, and the bread is deeply golden and registers an internal temperature of 200•.
My loaves are always ready after 45 minutes total baking time, but your mileage may vary.