I love me a recipe that offers shortcuts and still tastes amazing. So, even though I don’t mind kneading bread, I still eagerly bookmarked the no-knead recipe from Jim Lahey as soon as I came across it.
Then, I discovered the caveat. There may not be kneading, but it still takes time and a little bit of getting your hands dirty (with sticky dough).
After going through it the first time, I shrugged and said I wasn’t really saving all that much so I wouldn’t make it again. That is, until I tasted it. Readers, it’s worth the time and effort.
And the more I’ve made it, the less the time and minor effort bothers me. I just plan better.
This is also a quintessentially Dutch oven dish.
Part of why the crust crunches so well is you preheat the Dutch oven for long enough that your dough goes into a nice and hot container. (I will admit, however, that I have used this recipe to make a couple of baguettes and it turns out well, just not as crunchy.)
It’s also pretty hard to mess up, since there are so few ingredients. The key is using bread flour, but I have — and I did this time on a whim — thrown in some amount of wheat flour and it’s worked. It’s not quite as fluffy but fiber does a body good.
Now, you can time things out how you want, but with a 12 to 18 hour rise time on the first go, my planning schedule is this:
*Before bed: Mix together the yeast, salt, water, and flour, and stir until blended.
*The next day/evening: When I get home from work, or the afternoon on a weekend, scrape the edges of the mixture and ensure it’s risen; then, turn out onto a lightly floured surface, shape into a boule, and wrap in a well-floured or cornmeal-coated towel, and let rise another 1 to 2 hours, before preparing to bake.
If you’re an early morning riser or an insomniac, a different schedule may work for you. But I’d rather get it started before bed and then deal with it later in the day. And a few hours extra rise time, if it’s a work day, hasn’t made a difference.
Again, it’s pretty hard to mess this up, even if there is an optimal way to make it that will maximize its awesomeness.
Here’s what I did:
- ¼ t. active dry yeast
- 1 ⅓ c. cool water
- 1 ¼ t. salt (I estimate)
- 3 c. bread flour (OR, 2 c. bread flour, 1 c. wheat flour — which may require slightly more water)
- Bran, cornmeal, or additional flour, for dusting
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and yeast, and then add the water. Use a wooden spoon, rubber dough scraper, or your hands to mix together until a wet, sticky dough forms, about 30 seconds. If it’s not wet and sticky, add more water or flour as necessary.
Cover the bowl — either a tea towel or plastic wrap or a loose lid will work. Let rise in a cool place, out of direct sunlight, for 12 to 18 hours.
When small bubbles dot the surface of the dough and it’s at least doubled in size, dust a work surface with additional flour. Scrape the dough onto the work surface. Use your hands — lightly floured — to shape the dough into a round.
Dust a (non-terry cloth) tea towel with flour or cornmeal, and then place the dough, seam-side down, in the towel, and then gently wrap together. Let the dough rise for another 1 to 2 hours. (It’s ready when it has almost doubled and/or you can poke it with a finger and it holds the impression.)
About a half-hour before the second rise has finished, heat the oven to 475 degrees with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Place the Dutch oven, covered, in the center of the rack.
When the dough is ready, carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven. Uncover it, and add some cornmeal or wheat bran if desired, to the bottom of the pot. Then, unfold the dough and quickly but gently invert it into the pot with the seam-side up. Cover the pot again.
Bake the dough for 30 minutes.
Remove the lid and continue to bake until the bread is browned but not burnt, another 15 to 30 minutes.
Once the bread is done, carefully remove the loaf from the Dutch oven, and place it on a rack to cool. Let cool for at least an hour before slicing, and enjoy with soup, butter, or all by itself!