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No Knead Bread

July 31, 2010
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If you’ve been over for dinner sometime in the last, oh, three years or so, you’ve probably had this bread. The one I make at least twice a week. The one that’s still hot from the oven (because I do my guests right), with the crunchy crust and the gooey interior pocketed with bubbles. The one that makes the kitchen whole house smell like heaven and really requires minimal effort. The one that would keep for days wrapped in a dish towel on the counter if we didn’t eat it so quickly. It’s the bread that made me unafraid of yeast. The one that sucks up melting butter just so. The one that my man will invariably, adorably introduce as homemade to new guests. The one that turned neighbors into friends. That ruined my new le creuset pot, that freezes perfectly, that pairs well with everything.

Even if you haven’t been over, you’ve probably had a variation of this bread. Ever since Mark Bittman published Jim Lahey’s “revolutionary” recipe in The New York Times in 2006, its fame has grown, and deservedly so. It’s become the stuff of legend, turning yeastophobes (like me) into apparently expert home bakers, and finally ending many a search for the perfect loaf of bread.

And even though the article boasts the highest reward:effort ratio in the history of (successful) bread making, I’ve made it even easier.

With my twice a week estimate, I have, after all, made this bread about 300 times, so I’ve got it down to an art. I don’t even measure the ingredients anymore. I don’t always let it rise overnight. I don’t let it sit for 15 minutes before “shaping” – hell, I don’t even shape it! – as the recipe suggests. And that’s the beauty of it: you can’t really mess it up. Maybe you leave it to rise overnight in the hope that the crumb will be that much more moist, or the crust that much more delicate. Or maybe you throw it all together at noon and bake it at 6. When you have a piece of steaming, buttered bread in your mouth, you won’t be able to tell the difference.

EASIER (almost) NO KNEAD BREAD

The measurements aren’t really important here, as long as the ratio of flour:water is around 2:1. For a bigger loaf, use 3 cups flour and a bit more than 1.5 cups water. You can leave out the salt altogether for authentic pane toscano, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I’ve also tried adding things like rosemary, raisins and cheese. None of these experiments has ever failed exactly, but I think this is one of those instances where less is more. One last thing: I realize this recipe is not exactly “no knead” seeing as I ask you to knead for thirty seconds, but they go by quickly and require no elbow grease, I promise.

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon yeast (or half a packet*)
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup warm water (or a bit more)

*If you’re using yeast in packets, just close up the half-full sachet with an elastic band and store in the fridge until you make your next loaf.

Before bed, or as soon as you wake up, mix the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl with a wooden spoon.

Add the water (a bit more than half the amount of flour) and stir. The dough should be a shaggy, wet mess, like this (but maybe even wetter):

If it’s too dry, add a bit more water (I always do) and stir. Seal the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit overnight or at least 5 hours, up to 48. When the dough is ready, it will be covered in little bubbles, like this:

Now, heavily flour a surface where the bread will need to rest for a few hours. I usually use a cutting board so I can move it if I have to. With extra flour on hand, generously flour your surface and pour the dough out onto the flour and sprinkle the top with more flour. Knead the dough for about 10 seconds, adding more flour to keep your hands from sticking. Form it into a ball, like this:

making sure there’s still plenty of flour underneath so it doesn’t stick. Cover with a dish towel and leave it alone for a couple hours.*

About an hour before you want your bread out of the oven, place a heavy-duty pot with a lid in the oven. Heat the oven to just about as hot as it gets, about 475 – 500ºF/250°C.

Once hot, carefully remove the (really, really) hot pot** from the oven, and remove dish towel from the dough, which will have puffed out a bit and look something like this:

Place the dough into the pot and cover. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for 5 – 10 minutes more, depending on how dark you want your crust. Cool on a wirerack for 15 minutes before slicing.

*I’ve forgotten about it and let it sit out on the counter all day and it turned out perfectly fine. I’ve also been rushed and only let it sit out for the time it took my oven to heat up. It was a little chewier, but no one complained.

** It’s a 500º pot. Do not put it directly onto your enamel counter tops. Take it from me. Also? Don’t use your brand new, shiny flame colored le creuset. Use that old pot your mom gave you so you wouldn’t starve when you moved out. Anything with a lid, just not my beautiful, once-sparkling pot.

ENJOY!

on the left, kneaded a little more...on the right, not kneaded at all.

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