The No-Knead Bread

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If you haven’t heard about the no-knead bread by now, you clearly don’t read many food blogs (or newspapers, for that matter.) Last year, in The New York Times–actually, TWO years ago in The New York Times (the article was published November 8, 2006! Boy, I’m way behind on making this)–Mark Bittman coaxed a recipe from master bread baker Jim Lahey for perfect bakery-quality bread at home. Shockingly, the recipe required no work, no kneading of any kind. The food world was astonished. Food bloggers went ga-ga. I watched them go ga-ga. And, finally, last week I decided to go ga-ga myself.

Really, it just came down to an impulse. At midnight, last Friday night, I pulled up the recipe online and wrote down the following:

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour

1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

I went into the kitchen and mixed those things together. Then, as directed by the recipe, I added 1 5/8ths cups of water (which is really just a little more than 1.5 cups of water) and stirred just until blended. “Dough will be shaggy and sticky,” said the recipe.

That was it. I covered it with plastic wrap and went to sleep.

I spent the next day frolicking in the meadow and healing the sick, and when I was ready for bread–approximately 7 PM, Saturday night–I looked back at my bowl and saw this:

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It had risen! And it smelled oh so good and yeasty.

[Note: just so you have the actual timing of this, it should rest for at least 12 hours, preferably 18. That’s why I did everything the night before.]

The next step is to flour a work surface. That’s a pretty easy step.

Then you plop the dough from the bowl on to the work surface and you sprinkle it with a little more flour. Then you fold it over on itself once or twice.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest 15 minutes.

Finally, you use a little more flour (so the dough doesn’t stick) and shape it into a ball. You coat a cotton towel with flour or cornmeal (I used cornemal), place the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with more cornmeal. Then you cover with another towel and let rest for 2 more hours.

2 more hours!

I should’ve read this carefully; I was getting hungry.

But I did more frolicking, more healing of the sick, and 2 hours later this is what I had:

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Looks good already, doesn’t it?

Now the fun/dangerous part. 30 minutes before the 2 hours are up (so 1 hour and 30 minutes into the dough’s final rise), place a 6 – 8 quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in the oven and heat to 450.

At the 2 hour mark (when the pot’s been in there 30 minutes) carefully–VERY CAREFULLY–remove the scalding hot pot from the oven, lift the lid off and dump the dough in, seam-side up. To quote the recipe: “It may look like a mess, but that is ok.” Shake the pan to evenly distribute and it’ll look something like this:

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Here’s where the magic happens.

You put the lid on (carefully! that lid is hot too!) and place back in the oven for half an hour.

Then you remove the lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes “until the loaf is beautifully browned.”

I can’t tell you how good this made the apartment smell. It had a toasty, caramelly, bready, bakery smell that should be bottled and sold instead of Fabreeze.

You already know, from the picture at the top of the post, what the bread looked like when it came out of the oven, but I want to show you again:

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Isn’t that a beauty? Painters: don’t you want to paint that? Composers: don’t you want to write a song about that? Accountants: don’t you want to do its taxes?

You remove (carefully!) to a rack to let it cool and it was hard not to tear in and eat it right away, but the blasting heat of the bread was a good deterrent.

Finally, 15 – 20 minutes later, I cut in and this is what I saw:

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The bread was surprisingly pliant; breads I’ve made in the past have been much tougher on the outside. This tore and cut easily and the first bite was everything I wanted it to be: warm, only slightly chewy, and crusty and nutty on the outside, with a certain sweetness and freshness that only comes from getting the bread straight from the oven.

So let’s review: to make brilliant, bakery-quality bread that makes you go ga-ga, all you need to do is mix 3 things together before you go to bed, add water (like a Gremlin!), and the next night you’ll have fresh bread.

You have no excuse.

I had no excuse.

The time is right for you to make the no-knead bread. To quote Nike: “Just do it.”

Related Recipes:

Make Bread

Luisa’s Potato Focaccia

Pa amb Tomàquet

Easy French Toast

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