There’s No Knead

Last week, mt friend Drew posted a link to Mark Bittman’s column in the New York Times about a bread recipe that required very little yeast and almost no kneading. The secret, according to Bittman, was to let it sit for a good 18 hours, letting the yeast do all the work in creating the gluten.

Anyone who’s been around these parts for a while knows of my ongoing struggle with bread. I gave up for years because I couldn’t get anything close to the heavenly stuff that came out of my Grandmother’s oven. So I was game to try Bittman’s recipe, but sceptical.

I had the loaf in the oven this afternoon when I came across a post about the bread on the Live Journal food porn community. Like everyone over there, my bread turned out fantastic, although it was not without its problems.

No-Knead Bread

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes. While the dough was workable, it was really very wet, and threatened to become a culinary horror story that oozed all over my kitchen.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger. The instructions to form the dough into a ball make me laugh – while I got enough flour worked in that it quit oozing, it was certainly flatter than this when I came back to put it in the oven.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yay, bread! But wait, there’s one more photo.

Peruse those instructions again. There’s no mention anywhere of greasing the baking pan. A greased pan is standard with every bread recipe I’ve ever seen, even breads that contain oil as an ingredient.

Maybe the folks on Food Porn had the foresight to grease the pan anyway, certainly almost everyone who replied to the original post about the No-Knead Bread seems to have used the published recipe only as a guideline, but if you were following the recipe to the letter, undoubtedly, you got a really nice loaf of bread cemented to the inside of a really nice (expensive) pot.

Conclusion – the bread is absolutely brilliant, and I’ll definitely make it again and again. It’s got a gorgeous crust (created from leaving the pot covered for the first half hour of baking) and a beautiful lacy crumb. Other than the bit of oozing at the folding stage, it was relatively easy to handle. But next time, I’m going to remember to grease the damn pan!!!