I am a pretty good cook, if I do say so myself, and I’m not bad at baking (I perfected meringues at the tender age of 11), but every time I’ve tried to make a yeast bread in the past, the results have been disappointing. All that work for a brick. A tasteless, heavy brick.
I gave up. Figured that really good bread was something created by professionals, using some sort of secret labor-intensive magical technique that involved getting up at 4am, perfect timing, advanced technique and a giant oven with misters.
I don’t like getting up at 4am. I am late for everything. I’m not interested in advanced techniques. I don’t have a giant oven with misters.
So then I came across an article in the New York Times by Mark Bittman, the Minimalist, and the article was all about No-knead Bread, how you could use this very simple, foolproof technique to make perfectly delicious, crusty, flavorful bread. No magic. No special oven. Timing not important. Super simple technique….basically stirring together some flour and water and yeast, letting it sit for oh, 4-14 hours, whatever works for your schedule, and then dumping it into a hot pot in the oven.
Really? No way. I HAD to try it.
By golly, it worked. PERFECT bread. I have made about a hundred loaves of perfect bread now, and I can assure you that this is the best bread recipe ever. I have messed with the amount of flour. I have messed with the amount of water. I have messed with the amount of yeast. It still comes out great.
I have let the dough rest for only a few hours, and I have let it rest for several days. I would say that anywhere between 4-14 hours of dough resting at room temperature (or 70F) will ensure good results. Less than 4 or more than 14, you will get a flatter loaf (but still tasty, just more like ciabatta than a boule), because on the shorter timeframe, the yeast hasn’t fully developed. On the longer end, it has fully developed and now it’s on the way out….losing steam. If you need to let it sit longer than 14 hours, stick it in the fridge and then your dough ball will be in suspended animation until you get back to finish the process.
So, ready to make perfect bread? Let’s get started.
SPEEDY NO-KNEAD BREAD
3 cups bread flour (You can use all-purpose flour, but it won’t be quite as perfect. Bread flour can be found at any decent supermarket, it is made from high-protein wheat and makes the dough more stretchy, traps more air inside it for a fluffier, chewier, more delicious result)
1 packet ( 1/4 ounce) instant yeast, or 1.5 teaspoons (if using bread machine yeast)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Oil as needed. (Spray Olive Oil from Trader Joe’s is the easiest)
1. Combine flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups water and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy. Cover bowl with a plate or with a larger bowl placed upside down on top. Let dough rest about 4 hours at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
This part is really hard to mess up. I have let the dough sit all day (12 hours) or overnight. It can also sit in the fridge for a few days, until you feel like getting around to it. The beautiful thing about this recipe is that it adapts to your schedule, not the other way around. It’s just so hard to mess up. The longer you let it sit, the more sourdough-y it will be. Try 4 hours your first time, then you can play around with it after that, if you like.
2. Lightly oil a work surface (olive oil is best) and place dough on it; fold it over on itself once or twice. Clean your original bowl, oil it, and put the dough back in for about 45 minutes to rise again.
3. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6-to-8-quart heavy covered pot or Dutch oven (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. I bought a vintage cast iron Dutch oven with lid off eBay (ridiculously cheap, about $30 with shipping) that I use exclusively for making bread now, before that I was using a Le Creuset Dutch oven.
4. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Dump the dough from the oiled bowl directly into the hot pot. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.
5. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 10 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Yield: 1 big loaf. You can easily double this recipe, just make sure that you use a bigger bowl to mix it in and let it rise. I mix up a triple batch in a giant Tupperware container, let it sit for four hours on the counter, and then stick it in the fridge. I pinch off pieces, let them sit for the second rising in an oiled bowl on the counter, then bake them. One mixing gives me fresh bread fixings for a week.
If you mix up more than one batch at once, then when you go to do the second rising, split the dough into two equal pieces (for a double batch, or split it in three for a triple batch) and put each in its own oiled bowl. Bake one, and then when it is done, plop the second one into the already-hot bread-baking pot.
Would you like a video? I have a video. Check it out:
Enjoy! If you make this bread, please let me know how it turned out for you in the comments below.