Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My continuing obsession with no-knead bread

No-knead bread, the love of my baking life. I had never heard of the stuff until last year but have been on a mission to make great artisan bread at home for what seemed like my entire existence. I was beginning to think it would never happen in spite of baking stones, 70 year old sourdough starter, and pretty much every cooking and baking accoutrement that I could cram into my house. Then I picked up a Vogue magazine and read the article that changed my life. I know, you think I'm being dramatic (and it wouldn't be the first time I was accused of such) but when I read I could make bread as incredible as something from Sullivan Street Bakery in New York in my home oven, I wanted to drop to my knees right there in my living room and thank the powers of the universe for putting that magazine in my hands that day.
I'll admit it didn't hurt that the article was written by Jeffrey Steingarten, my absolute favorite (and to my mind the most erudite) food writer on the planet today. The irony of a magazine devoted to the emaciated darlings of the fashion world still having a great food writer on staff doesn't escape me but I'm sure glad they do.

The first time I baked this bread I got a loaf that looked like it had come from the ovens of a fabulous artisan bakery like Bread Line in DC or Tom Cat in NY. It was just plain gorgeous and the taste was unbelievable, the crust was chewy and crisp at the same time. I was in heaven and I swear I baked a loaf of bread every day for about two weeks (and I'm the only person in my house who likes bread so I was going through a lot of flour and eating a LOT of bread). Yes, I definitely had a few bombs but the technique is so easy that just a little bit of experience with the dough and I was producing spectacular loaves every time.

So here's the basic recipe plus a ton of notes I've taken over the past year. I'm not baking every day these days but I'm still crazy about this bread and no lie, it looks as good as the pic I've loaded every time I bake it.


3 cups bread flour (I like King Arthur but just about any brand will do; I’ve also used regular unbleached all-purpose flour with great results)
1 teaspoons instant yeast (look for Rapid Rise or bread machine yeast; SAF is great)
2 teaspoons salt (I use Kosher – you might need a bit less if you’re using table salt)
1.5 cups room temp or slightly warmer water
Wheat bran


Parchment paper
Cast iron or ceramic Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid


1. Put the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl and mix together thoroughly.
2. Add the water and mix to get a rough, sticky dough (there may still be some flour clinging to the side of the bowl but most of it should be incorporated)
3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for about 12-18 hours (can be a few less or a bit more but 24 hours is about the longest you want to let it go)
4. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a heavily floured board or counter and pat it out slightly 5. Fold the two sides of the dough in like folding a letter, cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes
6. After 15 minutes, fold the other two sides in to make a sort of square then pull it to make a round loaf. Place the dough on a heavily floured towel that has been sprinkled with wheat bran; sprinkle the top of the loaf with wheat bran and fold the sides of the towel up over the loaf. You may also place the loaf on parchment paper (my preference) which then goes right into the oven when you bake. Cover with a towel to keep the dough from drying out.
7. Let rise for two hours.
8. After one hour of rising, put the Dutch oven with the lid into the oven and turn it on to 500°
9. After the two hour rise, open the oven, pull the lid off the Dutch oven and turn the dough from the towel into the Dutch oven, trying not to let it fall in and completely deflate.
10. Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on then bake for 20-25 minutes with the lid off. Use an instant read thermometer to be sure the interior of the loaf is 205 degrees or above if you have doubts.
11. Cool on a rack for at least two hours. Resist the urge to tear the loaf apart with your bare hands once it is cool enough to not give you third degree burns. You won’t be sorry.

A few notes:

· Go to YouTube and search on no-knead bread. Be sure to watch the video of Jim Lahey and Mark Bittman from the New York Times but when you go to make the bread, use the ingredients listed here rather than the measurements he says. This version tastes and rises much better. Marthastewart.com also has video of Jim on Martha’s tv show but some find her a bit hard to stomach (no culinary pun intended...)

· If you don’t have a Dutch oven, I’ve seen people make this bread using a pizza stone with a flower pot on top or use a number of different types of Pyrex bowls with lids. The real key is to be sure a) whatever you use can stand up to a really hot oven, and b) the lid fits tightly.

· If your dough sticks to the towel when you go to turn it into the Dutch oven, pry it off as much as you can and hope for the best. Next time (and there will be a next time), be sure the towel is very heavily floured (so you can’t see the weave of the cloth) and add more wheat bran. Do not despair as you will probably still get a fantastic loaf of bread.

· As I mentioned above I’ve had pretty good luck rising the dough on parchment paper then just sliding the whole thing, paper and all, into the Dutch oven. The paper gets a bit crispy but doesn’t catch on fire or anything horrible like that. If you’re really concerned, pull the paper out of the Dutch oven when you remove the lid before the second half of the baking period.

· If the bread seems a bit sticky when you cut it, it is underbaked. Add five minutes to the baking time next time you bake and test with an instant read thermometer. If it measures over 205 degrees, you’re good.

· If you don’t get a good rise in the oven or your crust is hard instead of being chewy, your dough is probably too wet. Because the dough is very sticky and may not incorporate all the flour in the bowl, you may be tempted to add a bit more water. Do not do this, just keep mixing (you can use your hands or a wooden spoon) until the dough is mostly pulled together.

· You can add stuff like cheese or raisins if you want. There are MANY recipe variations of this bread available on the web (breadtopia.com is one that I like but just Google no-knead bread and you’ll see how this has caught on in the baking world).

· This recipe makes a BIG loaf. You can easily cut the ingredients in half and get a nice size loaf for a smaller family.

Good luck and report back!

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