No Knead Bread

January 11, 2016

It's been five years since Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York divulged his secret for making the most incredible bread imaginable with a total of about a half hour's work, and absolutely no kneading! Since then, thousands of websites have arisen dealing with the technique,as well as several books. In fact, what got me involved was the book "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day." The problem with the book was that, although the method worked, it created enough dough to make a loaf a day for a week, and there's no way we could consume that much bread. And, since it was baked on a pizza stone, the bread had a tendency to spread outward instead of upward.    

If you've ever made yeast bread, you know what a pain it can be. Even ten minutes of kneading seems like a lifetime. Lahey's technique relies on two relatively unknown facts. First, that if you make your dough wet enough, you give the gluten strands room and flexibility to move around and align themselves in exactly the way kneading forces them to do. Second, that you can emulate a professional, steam-injected oven by creating a closed environment within your home oven using a dutch oven, Pyrex bowl, Corning Ware dish or even a flower pot. Anything, as long as it can withstand high temperatures, and you can put a lid on top to keep the steam from the dough from escaping. I use a lidded ceramic pot that's about 6 inches across at the bottom, and widens as it rises. 

Everyone who publishes on the internet has their own version of what works best for them, and I'm no different. The nice thing is that this method is incredibly forgiving. If you use a little more of less water it doesn't really matter. Whether you let it rise for 12 hours, 24 hours or 36 hours, it doesn't seem to care. If you want to substitute whole wheat flour for some of the white flour, go ahead. Add some pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, wheat berries or flax seeds. It still works. What follows is the recipe I've found works best for me, but I'm still toying with it. Enjoy. 

3 1/4 Cups all-purpose or bread flour (I use bread flour)
2 teaspoons salt or more to taste--not course or Kosher
1/4 teaspoon yeast, preferably Instant Active Dry, though it may not matter

In a medium-sized container that can hold all the ingredients plus allow for rising, mix the yeast and salt into 1 3/4 cups of water. Add the flour, and combine, making sure there is no visible dry flour. The mixing should take all of about 30 seconds. 

Cover the container with plastic wrap or a lid or anything else that isn't airtight, and put in a warm place. I find the top of the refrigerator works great. Now go about your business. Leave it as long as you like. I usually mix the dough late on Saturday, and plan on baking on Monday. That's about 36 hours, but who's counting. The dough will roughly have doubled in size by then.  

When you're ready to begin baking, take a large bowl, and coat it lightly with oil. I use Pam. Nudge the dough out of the container into the bowl. I use a spatula to move it along. It will resemble something from a horror movie. Don't be afraid. Wet your hands, then fold the dough in thirds as if your were folding a letter. Rotate it ninety degrees, and fold in thirds again. Treat the dough gently. You don't want to squeeze the trapped gases out of it. Cover it loosely with plastic wrap and let it sit for two hours. 

About a half hour before you're ready to bake, set your oven to 500 degrees, and put the pot and the lid inside. When it's baking time, sort of fold the dough over on itself again until you have a globby mess about the size of a softball. Again, don't squeeze it or drive the trapped gases out. 

Carefully take the heated pot and lid from the oven and place it on top of the stove. Wet your hands again, grab the dough, and lift it out of the bowl, and plop it into the heated pot. Using oven mitts, shake the pot a little to distribute the dough, then put the lid on and place the whole thing back in the oven. Let it bake undisturbed for 30 minutes. Lower the temperature to 450 degrees, remove the lid, and let the bread remain in the oven for another 15-30 minutes depending on how dark you want the crust. Remove the bread to a cooling rack, and let it cool thoroughly before slicing it.