No need to knead
Great bread comes easy
Cook Chop Chef
People eat a lot of bread. It’s a diet staple across the globe, and as such it’s very important to people. As of this writing, protesters in the Middle East are using bread to represent their struggle – the difficulty of getting bread to eat is a symbol for their social and economic hardships.
The fact that you can find bread almost everywhere, in many forms, might have something to do with the fact that flour, water, and yeast are extraordinarily versatile. And while you can dress them up with oils or eggs or sugar, depending on what you’re making, you really only need two more ingredients to make a spectacular low-effort loaf of bread.
The fourth ingredient is salt, which adds a little flavour to the dough and helps balance out the moisture. But the fifth ingredient is the most important one, and it’s the ingredient that makes the difference between the bread recipe that’s going to kick off this column and other recipes you might use.
The fifth ingredient is, not surprisingly, time.
So the bad news is that you will need a lot of time to make this bread happen. The good news is that you can spend most of it – all but probably 45 minutes, to be honest – outside of the kitchen. And the moments that you do spend in the kitchen will be fairly simple.
Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread caused quite a stir in the food community when Mark Bittman published it in his New York Times column, The Minimalist, in 2006. North America’s food community suddenly took a far deeper interest in bread, culminating in the release of books like Artisanal Bread in Five Minutes a Day.
But while there have been a number of variations on his recipe since – including a Mark Bittman update that uses more yeast and less time to similar results – the original is too simple and non-time-intensive to ignore.
The best part is that, for students, the basic nature of the recipe makes it really easy to fit into your schedule. It’s not particularly messy, and after the initial mixing of the dough you mostly just let it sit.
You do have to be around the dough about two hours before you want it to be in the oven, but if you’re able to block out three hours of time on the weekend to spend at home doing work or relaxing or what have you then it’s not demanding. If you aren’t able to block that time out, either, the good news is that the recipe is extraordinarily forgiving; so long as you’re within a generous window of time, the yeast will happily do its thing without your interference.
And what you pull out of the oven is totally worth it. The cooking method – which is heavy on water and relies on using a pot with a lid to keep the moisture in the pot, making the crust crispy and crackly without being tooth-shatteringly hard – gives you a really phenomenal bread.
Of course, that means that a day’s worth of getting bread ready will see its results vanish very quickly. But that, too, is worth it.
Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread
3 cups all-purpose flour, and more for dusting
1 5/8 cups water
1/4 tsp yeast
1 1/4 tsp salt
In a medium-to-large mixing bowl, mix together the flour, the yeast, and the salt. Slowly add the water and stir it into the flour to make dough. If you incorporate all the water and still have flour left over on the bottom and sides of the bowl, add a big enough splash of water to make everything in the bowl into dough. The dough should be very sticky; keep a metal spoon nearby in case you need to scrape the wet dough off your hands.
Cover the bowl with a cotton towel and let it sit, covered, at room temperature for 14-18 hours.
When the dough is ready – it will have visible air bubbles on the surface, and poking it will still cause it to stick to your finger – turn it out onto a lightly floured counter and fold it over itself once or twice. Cover it loosely with plastic wrap and let sit for 15 minutes.
Heavily dust a cotton towel – you can use the one you used earlier – with cornmeal, flour, or bran. Place the loaf on the towel, sprinkle some more of whatever you’re using for dusting on top, and place another towel over top of the loaf. Let it rest for two hours.
Half an hour before you want to bake the bread, put a heavy oven-proof pot – preferably one with a lid, like a Dutch oven – in your oven. Heat the oven to 450.
After half an hour, take the pot out of the oven. By this point, the combination of the rise in the bowl and the rise on the counter will have caused the dough to double in size. Very carefully take the dough and transfer it into the pot. If it’s unevenly lumped into one corner or side, you can shake the pot a little to make sure it’s evenly distributed, but for the most part this will work itself out as the bread bakes.
Place the lid on top and return the pot to the oven for 30 minutes. If the pot doesn’t have a lid, you can also use heavy-duty tinfoil.
When 30 minutes have passed, remove the lid from the pot. Continue to bake the loaf, uncovered, for another half hour.
After the bread has baked uncovered for half an hour, remove it from the oven. Let it cool on a rack. Serve warm, if possible.