Once Upon a Time
The discovery of Jim Lahey’s recipe of a “no knead” bread has brought, oh, so much deliciousness into our home. I’m used to good hearth bread, having grown up as a baker’s daughter, and to find something that I can make, that resembles the French and sourdough of my youth, is…..yum!
My older brother first alerted me, about two years ago, to this method of baking that was gaining in popularity. Since I like to experiment when I bake, I’ve played and fiddled with Mr. Lahey’s original recipe. Even he has. You can see how the recipe has evolved from the initial NY Times article to his actual measurements and techniques that he then published in his book, My Bread. Others have fiddled and played, too, but I’ve received so many questions about this technique that you now have my simplified version–with gads of photos to help you see the process.
Why You Should Try This Recipe
If you eat wheat, if you like a little bread in your diet, if you own a cast iron or enamel pot (if you don’t, think about tracking one down), then try making this bread. The process is a bit messy–that’s the downside, but the effort is minimum, and the result is, as my five-year-old would say, delish!
Because the mix of this dough is so moist, you need very little yeast, one of the most costly ingredients in making bread. Also because of the high water content, the loaves stay good for days and days. And…because the first rise is so long, there’s a ton of flexibility schedule-wise, as to when you need to be in the kitchen. Oh, another added bonus–the loaves are beautiful. I love beautiful bread.
Time Commitment: Ten minutes to measure and mix the dough. 8-15 hours of just waiting. Fifteen minutes to shape loaf for second rise. Another 1-2 hours of waiting. And an hour to bake. Time. You need lots of time to let the dough really develop, but it’s really only about 20-30 minutes of hands-on work for the baker.
- Tools you need:
- Cast iron or enamel pot with lid
- Large mixing bowl (glass or ceramic) with cover
- an oven
- thick cloth for second rising
- wooden spoon
- plastic spatula
- dough scraper for clean up (optional)
Ingredients: (Basic mix)
- 3 cups all purpose flour (I use Trader Joe’s unbleached flour in the blue bag)
- 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast or instant yeast (can use cake yeast, just need to double it)
- 1 1/2 cups cool water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (I like sea salt)
- bran or corn meal or whole wheat flour for dusting
- What to do:
Step One: Combine flour, salt and yeast in a large glass or ceramic bowl–mix with wooden spoon. Add water. Stir some more, until all the ingredients are wet and gloppy. (I usually do this step in the evening before heading to bed.)
Step Two: Scrape the dough off the wooden spoon. Cover the bowl with a plate, or a pot lid, (you can use plastic wrap, but I like to use something that you don’t throw away) so that very little air is seeping into the bowl. Let the dough rise for at least 8 hours–or up to 15.
Much of this can be done in your PJ’s
Step Three: Check the dough after the first, very long rise. It should have climbed up the sides of the bowl and you will see bubbles in its surface. (This batch has fresh rosemary mixed in, thus the green flecks in the dough…)
Step Four: Prepare the towels. I typically rub flour into a large corner of the towel, then sprinkle it with bran. You can also use corn meal, or whole wheat flour.) This provides a barrier so that the wet dough does not adhere to the towel later, when you need to dump the dough into the hot pot. Be generous with this layer of flour on the towel.
Step Five: Flour, flour, everywhere. Flour your countertop. Scrape the gooey dough onto the counter with a plastic dough scraper or a plastic spatula, and sprinkle with flour. Flour your hands and fold the dough in half, or thirds, incorporating the new flour. Fold again. Then, tuck the edges under, while spinning the dough slowly in circles to shape it into a round. Keep tucking, and shifting in a circle, flouring your hands if the dough sticks. Do this until you have a smooth top. The underside should be all wrinkled and tucked, and that’s great. That will create the patterned top crust later when it gets flipped into the pot.
Step Six: Sprinkle flour and bran on the dough, making sure you get some onto the sides since the dough will rise and spread. Fold the towel over the dough and cover with yet another towel and let rise up to two hours, but not longer.
Step Seven: Allow the dough to rise in the towels for an hour, but no more than two. A half hour before baking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, heating the pot in the oven as well.
Step Eight: Make sure your area is clear. You’re going to be working with super hot, heavy pots and my biggest worry with this method is being burned. Please be careful… Using oven mitts, take the hot pot out of the oven and place it on a non-burning surface. I place it directly on my granite counter top, removing the lid, placing that on my stovetop. Unwrap the dough from the towels, slide your hand under the towel with the dough, and tip it upside down into the hot pot. Flour and bran will likely spill all around. Remember, the pot is hot. Use oven mitts to hold the pot, and shake it, distributing the dough evenly in the pot, then place the lid on, and put the whole thing into the oven.
Step Nine: Bake at 450 with the top on for 30 minutes, remove the lid, and bake another 25-30 minutes.
Step Ten: Remove the hot pot from the oven, dumping the loaf onto a cooling rack. Allow the bread to cool for at least an hour.
Step Eleven: Clean up. I use my metal dough scraper to clean up in a snap. For the counter, I simply scrape all the excess flour into a pile and transfer it into the trash. With only a bit of dusting left, I then wipe the counter down with a sponge.
For the towels, I use the same dough scraper and, with the towel flat and taut, scrape any excess dough and flour off the towel. If there is a lot of extra dough, then I let it dry first, then simply peel it off. Once I have most of the flour scraped off the towel, I take it out into the back yard and flap it in the wind or bang it against the trunk of our huge pine. I rarely wash my towels, and keep them in a separate drawer so they don’t get used for something else…
Step Twelve: Share. Either cut your loaf in half and share with a friend, or bake two at a time–like I do.
- You can easily double this recipe–just make sure you have a pot big enough to bake in.
- Adding cheese into this mix is delicious! Just grate your favorite cheese, any amount, but probably not more than a cup, and mix it in right at the beginning.
- Another version I love making– is by doubling the recipe (6 cups of flour), reducing the water by 1/4 quarter of a cup, and adding in a whole jar of olive tapenade.
- You don’t always have to make this dough into a big boule. After the first rise, if you mix a fair amount of flour into the wet dough, you can then make any shape you like. But… if you want to bake in the pot, then you are constrained by the shape of the pot you want to bake in, so unless you have an enormously long pot–baguettes are out!
- However, you don’t have to bake in a pot! You can flour up that dough, shape an elegant baguette or two, give it a short second rise, and slide it onto your baking stone for 30 minutes or so. Voila!
- If you have a sourdough starter in your home, you can add starter to the mix for flavor, or just leave out the instant yeast all together and use your starter to rise the dough…
- Cheers 🙂