Though I consider myself a pretty confident baker, all bets
are off when it comes to making bread.
In fact, anything involving yeast gives
me anxiety – there's getting the water temperature just right (Too hot? You'll
kill the yeast. Too cold? The dough won't rise). And then there's the kneading –
which winds up with me and my kitchen covered in flour, and a dough that's
either too tough (from too much flour) or too sticky (from not enough).
So I simply decided at some point that bread baking just
wasn't "my thing".
And then a few years ago a good friend served up a
charcuterie tray, filled with cheeses, cured meats, a dish of olives and…..the
most gorgeous, crusty bread I'd ever seen.
Bread that she baked.
It was as delicious as it was beautiful, and I asked her to
please teach me how to make it myself. But instead, she pointed me to a recipe
from 'The New York Times', for Jim Lahey's no-knead bread.
I read the recipe through a few times, certain that I'd
missed a critical (and likely complicated) step. There was no way that it could
be this easy.
Turns out it was.
And I've been turning out loaves of perfect, professional-looking
bread from MY kitchen ever since.
The secret? Well, there are a few (and I promise not to get
too technical here). First – and most importantly – is time. We're talking
almost 24 hours from start to finish – but only a fraction of those 24 hours is
hands on. The slow fermenting of the dough takes the place of the kneading that's
typically required when baking bread.
The dough is also much wetter than a typical bread dough, yet creates a crisp, shattering crust and large, well-formed crumb. This is
accomplished by placing that wet dough into a blazingly hot, covered vessel.
It can be anything you like – a Dutch oven, cast iron pot, enamel or ceramic. By
placing the dough in this moist, covered environment, you achieve that coveted
crust every single time.
Enough facts – let's bake!
While the original version of this bread is certainly
delicious – perfect for your fried egg, avocado toast or any manner of sandwich,
bruschetta or crostini – I occasionally add in some mix-ins.
For this recipe I've folded in some fall-ready cranberries
and walnuts, but you can use anything you like – grated cheese, orange zest,
caramelized onions, even chopped dark chocolate.
As for the best time to start the bread, I like to
begin in the evening – by mid-morning the next day the dough is ready for its
second rise, and you can have freshly baked bread for dinner that night.
RECIPE: No-Knead Cranberry Walnut Bread (adapted from The New York Times)
Yields: One Loaf
4 cups bread flour
½ teaspoon instant or active dry yeast
2 teaspoons kosher salt
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup chopped walnuts
2 cups water (can be anywhere from cool to room temperature)
In a large bowl briefly mix all the ingredients except the water.
Add the water and mix till just combined (this should take no more than a minute). The dough should feel shaggy and
sticky but not wet – if it's too wet add some more flour (and if it's too dry,
add a little more water). Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature
for 12-18 hours. The dough will have risen significantly, and be covered with
Place a large sheet of parchment paper onto a baking sheet
or large kitchen towel; dust the paper with flour and set aside.
Dust a work surface with flour and, using floured hands,
turn the dough out onto it. Dust the top of the dough with more flour. Fold the
dough in on itself once or twice. Flip the dough onto your prepared parchment,
folded side down. Dust the top with more flour and fold the parchment over the
dough to cover. If using a kitchen towel, fold that over the dough/parchment
paper. If using a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for two hours.
After one hour, place your lidded pot into the oven and turn
it to 425 degrees – this will give the pot ample time to heat up.
After two hours unwrap your dough and – using the parchment
paper as an aide – flip the dough over into your heated pot. Give it a shake or
two to settle the dough, cover the pot and place in your oven. Bake for 30 minutes,
remove the cover and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes. The crust should be
a deep, caramel brown.
Turn the dough out onto a wire rack and let cool completely