Minimum Effort, Maximum Awesome: No-knead Bread

Off in some parallel universe, my super-self gets up at 4:00 am on the weekends to make bread. As soon as the bread is out of the oven, she packs it up and heads off to a picnic in the park with her good friends, Darwin and da Vinci. She also speaks a zillion languages and reads the dictionary for kicks. 

Back here in reality, you’re more likely to find me reading Harry Potter than Meriamm-Webster. My high school French has regressed to an elementary level, I always wake up late, and I’m not pals with a bunch of dead guys. And I don’t make bread. 

I know there are those heroic people who can find the time to measure, mix, wait, knead, wait again, shape, wait some more, bake, and then cool. I’m just not one of them. Now, that being said:

You NEED to make this bread. 

no_kneadapril12 (5 of 5).jpgSeriously. I made it on Sunday. And Tuesday. And again on Thursday. And yesterday. And today. 

Because this is honestly one of the easiest things I’ve ever made. And it’s also one of the best.

Bread_collage_april12.jpgI mean, this is art. Delicious art that crackles as it cools, Rice Krispies-style. And get this — all that stands in the way of you and this bread are a few simple ingredients, a heavy oven-safe pot/casserole dish with a lid, about three minutes of active work (none of which is kneading, hence the name no-knead bread), and a bit of patience. 

no_kneadapril12 (1 of 5).jpg

Please, please, don’t let the 18-hour wait discourage you. It’s totally worth it. With the teeniest bit of effort, I’m sure you can find a schedule that’ll work great for you. I’ve included my schedule at the end of the post — tweak it as need be, and get baking as soon as you possibly can!

No-Knead Bread
This recipe, developed by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery, appeared in NY Times writer Mark Bittman’s column, The Minimalist (which, incidentally, wrapped up last week). If you’re interested in learning about the science behind this bread, I’d highly recommend checking out the original article. Here, I’m giving you the recipe precisely as Bittman wrote it, with my notes at the end. 

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ tsp instant yeast
1¼ tsp 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 F. 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’ve been putting the dough on a well-floured sheet of wax paper, rather than a towel. I placed the dough on a towel the first time I made it, and it stuck to the towel pretty badly. I do cover the dough with a towel though, and that’s worked fine. 

My Schedule: Below is the schedule I use when I want the bread to be ready around dinner time. Note that although I’ve listed precise times, I’m not nearly so exact. 
        Day 1, 10:00 PM:  Step 1: Mix ingredients and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Sleep, work, be happy! 
        Day 2, 4:00 PM:   Step 2: Fold dough over a couple of times and let rest for 15 minutes.     
                   4:15 PM:   Step 3: Shape dough into a ball and cover with a towel. 
                  5:45 PM:   Step 4: Place pot in the oven and preheat oven to 450°F.     
                   6:15 PM:   Step 4: Put dough in pot, cover, and bake for 30 minutes.
                   6:45 PM:   Step 4: Remove lid.
                   7:00 PM:   Step 4: Take bread out of the oven, and let cool for as long as we’re able to restrain ourselves. 

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