I generally love baking, and I tried to get into making my own bread for a while in an effort to perfect a skill and save some money. Plus, homemade bread is way way way way way better. At least, when everything goes as planned.
Basically, I never perfected anything. At least not using the traditional kneading method. I could never seem to consistently get the water to flour ratio perfect, or knead for the perfect amount of time, or have the moons aligned just so. Whatever, forget it.
Then I found out about no-knead bread. Not quick bread, but real life, BREAD bread that mostly just sits around and then you bake it. It takes more time in terms of thinking ahead, but less labor and less chances for error. And I’ve had great experiences making it.
I actually started with the Cook’s Illustrated method, and still love this recipe for its flavor. It’s a little more complicated, and I’ll write about that recipe later (stay tuned). Recently I tried the New York Times’ version, which has certainly made its rounds. It is one of their most popular recipes ever, and it comes from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery. Both breads use the same basic process—mix up the slightly wet and shaggy dough (no proofing needed), let sit 12-18 hours, shape and rise for 2 hours, and bake in a pre-heated vessel. Boom! A crusty round of rustic bread with a lovely, holey structure.
Baking bread like this has given my dutch oven a second life, and has restored my faith in home bread baking. I would be happy to eat this bread in a restaurant, let a lone my home. Below is my version of the NYT recipe, try it out!
adapted from Jim Lahey/New York Times
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour (can use more or all AP flour—3 cups total)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 5/8 cups water
1. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix. Add water (room temperature) and mix until a shaggy dough is formed. I just use a wooden spoon. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 12-18 hours. Closer to 18 is better.
2. Dough should have risen and be dotted with bubbles. Flour a work surface and lightly flour the dough. Scrape onto work surface and fold a couple of times, just using flour as needed. Don’t over work. Let sit for 15 minutes.
3. Lay a cotton tea towel flat (not terry, but smooth) and dust with cornmeal and flour. Quickly form dough into a ball using flour only as needed and lay it, seam-side down, on the towel. The dough is loose so you won’t be able to get a tight ball. That’s okay, don’t handle the dough too much, just go with the flow. Dust the top with flour and cover with another tea towel. Let rise again for 2 hours.
4. At least 30 minutes before baking, pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees with your 6—8 quart cast iron or enameled dutch oven inside (top included).
5. At baking time, remove your dutch oven and open it up. Turn the dough over into the pot—it will be seam-side up, and that’s okay! Wiggle the pot so that the dough is centered, put the top back on, and put back in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the top and bake for another 15-30 minutes, until you have a nice brown crusty top. Mine was done in a total of 50 minutes.
A few notes:
- If you use all white flour, your bread will rise higher than mine did. That being said, the texture was still great and springy with white whole wheat, not dense. You can change the ratio, just don’t use more whole wheat than I call for (for a total of 3 cups flour).
- Be sure to use instant yeast. If you’re using rapid rise, double the amount.
- Makes great sandwiches and counterparts to soups and salads, and the leftovers make great french toast and croutons.