I am about two months behind the curve with post, but somehow I just haven’t gotten around to baking Jim Lahey’s much-vaunted No-Knead Bread that appeared on the front page of the New York Times food section on November 8th, 2006. This amazing bread recipe/technique sent ripples through the foodie world, and you can find a list of links to people who made the bread here and here.
I’ve been home sick for the last couple of days and in a moment of stir craziness yesterday I decided to start this bread. It’s fantastically simple from beginning to end. First off you mix three cups of flour (I did two cups of unbleached white flour and one cup whole wheat) with either 1/4 teaspoon of instant yeast or a 1/3 teaspoon of regular dry active yeast and 1 & 1/4 teaspoons of salt. Mix these three dry ingredients together well and pour in 1 & 5/8 cups of water (I don’t have a measuring cup that measures in eights, so I guessed a little). Stir just enough to combine, cover with plastic and let sit for 12 to 18 hours (I let it go for nearly 20 and it was just fine).
It’s ready when the surface is dotted with bubbles. Turn it out onto a well-floured counter-top or cutting board and fold it over onto itself a couple of times. Then cover with plastic and let it sit for 15 minutes. Once its rested a bit, flour the dough and your hands and quickly shape it into a ball. The recipe says to place it, seam side down, on a dish towel dusted with either flour, wheat germ or cornmeal. I used wheat germ, but it was kind of messy and burned a little while baking, so I’m going to stick with flour next time. I also didn’t sit it on a towel, because I’d read things about how the dough stuck badly. So I dusted a sheet of parchment paper and sat it down on that. I dusted the top with flour and did drape a towel over the top. Let it rise for two hours.
An hour and a half into the rising time, set your oven to 450 degrees with with the pot you’re going to bake it in inside. The secret to this bread is that for the first half hour, you bake it in a pre-heated lidded pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic), to keep the baking environment moist. For the last fifteen to thirty minutes, you take the lid off so the top browns. When the rising time is up, turn it into the pot and bake.
The whole way through, I thought I had done something wrong. I didn’t get many bubbles on the top, and it didn’t rise much during the last two hours. But I figured I should just keep going to see how it turned out and I’m so glad I did. When I pulled my faux-Le Creuset pan out of my oven around 4 pm today, I was greeted with a perfect boule of bread. I let it cool for about 20 minutes before carving into it. For someone who has almost never baked bread and has a bit of a yeast phobia, this bread has done much to bolster my confidence. As it is, I have a full whole wheat batch fermenting on my kitchen counter right now, as I’m curious to see how it will do with just a whole grain.