It’s been five months since I last posted here, and I am duly ashamed. It isn’t that I stopped cooking, it’s that I got slovenly about writing about it. I shall strive to do better.
Now, then. My husband found a recipe in The Northcoast Journal for bread that seemed too easy to be true, called Suzie Owsley’s No-Knead Bread. I saved the link. And then I found the same recipe in The New York Times, just called No-Knead Bread. The recipe was developed by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York and has become popular via the internet, and for good reason: this is really good bread with very little effort.
The downside: it takes 12 to 24 hours (or more, if you choose). The upside: you only do about 5 minutes of work. You don’t need to have any bread-making experience. Just follow the directions.
A few notes:
Flour: use all-purpose or unbleached or bread flour. Use all white or part white/part whole wheat.
Yeast: use instant or regular. There is a scant tablespoon of yeast in each packet; this recipe uses about 1/3 to 1/2 of that, so you’ll get 2 or 3 loaves from each packet.
Water: you may need more or less than 2 cups. Bread flour absorbs significantly more water than all-purpose or unbleached.
NO-KNEAD NO-FAIL BREAD
- 3 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- heaping 1/4 teaspoon yeast
- 2 cups room-temperature water, more or less
Dump dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Add 1 1/2 cups water (or more; see note above) and mix with a wooden spoon to make a pudding-y mix.
Cover with plastic wrap and let sponge – that’s what this is called, a sponge – sit for 12 to 24 hours. A warmish-but-not-hot place is ideal – the top of the refrigerator or near but not on the stove. If your house is on the cool side, put the sponge in the oven and turn the oven on for 20 seconds every few hours, then turn it OFF again. If the sponge gets too hot, the yeast will die, and once that happens you’re out of luck.
When the sponge is ready, it will have a lot of little bubbles on top. It should smell yeasty and beer-y and sour (the longer it sits, the more sour it will smell).
Heavily flour a dish towel (not terry-cloth) and scrape the sponge onto it. Turn it over on itself a couple of times (a rubber spatula or metal dough scraper is very useful here), cover with plastic wrap, and let rest about 15 minutes.
Remove the wrap and sprinkle with more flour, and cover with another not-terry-cloth towel. Put the whole package back in the bowl (which you thoughtfully washed and dried) and let sit another two hours.
After 1 1/2 hours, turn the oven to 450F, and put a 5- to 8- quart covered baking dish in the oven to heat. The dish needs to be able to withstand a shitload of heat, so use cast iron, enamel, ceramic – something like that. Let it heat at least 30 minutes. I know this seems wrong, but do it anyway.
By the end of 2 hours, the dough should be puffed and doubled in size.
Remove the preheated baking dish from the oven and scrape/dump the sponge into it.
Some of the dough will go willingly and some won’t. Lay the towel down on the counter and use a metal scraper to remove the straggling parts, and dump into the dish. It will look like a hot mess, but have faith.
Cover the dish and put in the oven.
After 30 minutes, remove the lid from the baking dish and bake for 20 more minutes.
Remove dish from oven and turn bread out to cool.
Let cool at least 15 minutes before slicing.
If all that dish cloth stuff seems like too much work, you can also turn the deflated-and-rested dough into an oiled and heavily floured bowl and let rise the same way. The crust will be a little softer because of the oil. Mine turned out like this:
A couple of variations:
Add 1/2 cup (or more) chopped Kalamata olives to the dough before the 2-hour rise.
Saute one small onion, finely chopped, and 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary in 2 teaspoons olive oil. Mix into the dough before the 2-hour rise.
Lots of other variations possible: substitute some light beer for part of the water in the original sponge mixture. Add garlic, cooked crisp bacon, various herb mixtures, chopped nuts, cheese, green onions… have fun.