OK, so that's a pretty bold title, but I think well-deserved. Let me tell you why! I've been making bread for a long time now, and was pretty intrigued when the now famous no-knead bread sensation raced around the Internet a few years ago. I dove in head first thinking, Eureka, here is the answer to my inner-housegoddess prayers...a way to put homemade, fresh-from-the-oven loaves on my family's dinner table while still working a full-time job and without a laundress! Less fussing, less mess. Great! Right? Well, for me...not so much. Was it just me, I wondered, or was there something just not quite right about this legendary loaf? I found the texture, well, strange and slightly unnatural--almost foamy. I just couldn't put my finger on it. It was over-the-top salty as well (I think the first recipe that was circulating called for 3 teaspoons of salt!) I was, frankly, disappointed. The other problem--you actually had to plan ahead, like a whole day, like the day before you want to eat it. I mean, hello, I'm a card carrying member of the
(Organizationally Challenged Full-Time Working Moms Who Try To Cook Real Food)
and the likelihood of me planning ahead for the next day's meal was, well, pretty darn unlikely. That started a whole recipe tweaking adventure that has been a few years in the making...hence, the well-earned recipe title. If you too have been a little disappointed by the famous no-knead bread, and/or would like to put a delicious, warm and very fulfilling and healthy loaf on your table (without the texture and time commitment issues of said other loaf) with very little, and I do mean very little effort, read on!
This is my version of this basic recipe, with some definite technique alterations as there are no counters or dish towels harmed in the making of this bread. This is such a great recipe as you can alter the flour ratios to fit whatever you are in the mood to make. I started out using bread flour and traditional whole wheat flour, but have since branched out into many variations, including barley, spelt, whole wheat pastry flour, and my latest and I think greatest, semolina. TH loves semolina bread, so I decided to see if my last-minute no-kneadesque recipe was amenable to semolina flour. Not quite as packed with the same fiber and nutrition as a traditional whole grain, semolina is still very healthy, high in protein and fiber, and provides a nice change of pace to the typical whole grain breads. The flavor is deep and warm, and I had to put that ginormous bag of beautiful toasted sesame seeds that I picked up at the local Middle Eastern store to good use.
I should warn anyone reading this that you might want to turn on some perky music, put on a psychedelic t-shirt and brew up some STRONG java as the next few pictures are snooze-worthy. It seems such a disappointing contradiction that such a great recipe is so darn un-photogenic. It is also more than a little challenging to make tan dough and a tan loaf look that exciting, so apologies for the boring photos ahead. Just wish we had smell-a-vision and taste-a-vision for you all...that would certainly make up for any photogenic shortcomings as I assure you the taste and aroma is to.die.for. Ever onward to the mini-tutorial...
I usually start the dough by 9:00 in the morning, after breakfast, run a few Saturday errands, and can deal with the next step around lunch time. It takes a grand total of about five minutes initially to start. The above photo shows the shaggy starter dough once all the ingredients are mixed together. Whisking the dry ingredients before the liquid ingredients are added ensures even mixing and fewer lumps. I use a fork to mix everything together. What could be easier? Throw in some flour, yeast and salt, whisk, toss in some water and honey, cover with some plastic wrap, and away you go! I use active dry yeast in this recipe as it seems to work the best (bought in bulk from Costco). Two to three hours later...
...the dough after the first rise. You should see a few bubbles and there will be a nice, yeasty smell. Good things are happening here. After doing a lot of Internet research I ran across what I believe is called a French fold, which is a technique for very wet and shaggy dough, but one which I think is used more traditionally for dough that you work on a counter. I incorporated it into my recipe for some awesome results. Here, you just dive in with a flexible, plastic dough scraper, along the side of the bowl, and pull some of the contents of the dough up and over the top, towards the other side. You rotate the bowl a quarter turn, repeat the 'fold' and tuck, rotate again, repeat, and so on. Do this about eight to ten times. The dough will reduce in height quite a bit. The pictures below demonstrate this process.
After the first rise and folding, replace the plastic wrap over the top, and set aside again for another hour or two, until it has risen again, at least double in height. The great thing about this recipe is the fact that it is so forgiving. I have made the bread after only having enough time for the initial and final rise, and have also finished baking it late in the evening after having folded the dough three or four times due to scheduling issues, and the results are always fantastic. So let the dough rise as many times as is convenient for your meal and/or day's events. If you start the dough early in the day, allow enough time for a couple of rises, a few hours apart, and then plan on the final bake around late afternoon or 4:00 pm. Two to three rises, not counting the final rise, is ideal. The final rise should look something like this...
...full of air and bubbles, and quite jiggly. You don't want to deflate the dough before baking. Just leave it in its risen state as you are going to pour it into a pre-heated casserole dish, cast iron pot, or anything with a tight fitting lid that can stand some extended high heat. I found my very cool enamel cast iron 6-quart casserole dish at World Market for a fraction of the cost of LeCurset (just kidding, but they are curse-inducing expensive...I think some of you know who I mean). Anyway, the pot of choice is pre-heated for thirty minutes at 450 degrees. After pre-heating, remove the lid with a hot pad, pour in some corn meal to cover the bottom, then carefully pour in the risen dough, using the scraper to get out the remaining, sticky parts from the sides of the dough bowl. It should come out in one piece. I always end up with a nice top fold just because of how the contents spill out. It helps to angle the casserole dish slightly to the side prior to pouring, as in the photo, so you can see what you are doing a little better. I'm right-handed, so I hold the bowl of dough in my left hand and scrape out into the casserole dish with my right hand. If you just tip the bowl over the dish and let gravity do its thing, it usually will all pour out and you will only have to give things a little nudge to get started and at the end. The idea is to preserve as much air in the dough as possible though, so do be gently however you get it in there.
Carefully put on the lid, push the rack back in the oven, and follow the baking directions below. Prepare to have family members slowly descend, one by one, into the kitchen, as in a trance once the bread aromas start wafting through the house. You might find neighbors wandering into your home too, ones you haven't seen in years. Fresh, real bread baking in the oven is that powerful. Beyond magical. Beyond prescription medication. I think you know what I mean.
The loaf will even talk to you after you take it out of the oven. Really! The crust crackles and settles into itself in a symphony of come-hitherness that is just indescribable. Let the loaf cool properly, usually at least 30 minutes if not more. Make sure the dough has released away from the sides of the pan. You really don't want to force this step as you'll end up tearing the loaf. And don't try to force the loaf out with any type of utensil (the voice of experience here...trust me, please, and save yourself some grief). It will come out when it is ready. A forceful plop on the side of the baking dish (I've got old counters that can take it) usually does the trick if any part is resisting. You might have to coax it a little bit with some gently pulling with your fingers, but it usually is not a difficult part of the process. The bread has a lovely thick and crunchy crust that is reminiscent of expensive bakery bread. It reheats wonderfully, and the crust will re-crisp in the process. It makes delicious toast, and my youngest loves Frech toast made from the thick slices of day or two-day old bread (if it makes it that long).
OK, now for the one and only downside that I can imagine anyone might have with this--the loaf will have whatever shape your casserole dish is (obviously) and depending on your dough-to-dish capacity ratio, the side of the finished loaf may have a considerable portion that will be completely smooth. Not sure if this would be problem for anyone...it doesn't seem to slow anyone down in this household. If a smallish baking dish is used in contrast to the amount of dough, I imagine the loaf will end up with tall, smooth sides, but will still taste fantastic. The casserole dish I use results in an (American) football shaped loaf (as above). If you prefer a round loaf, then use a round dish. I think cast iron or enameled cast iron dishes result in the best loaves, but that is just a personal opinion. I believe they absorb and hold the heat better than a glass or ceramic dish. The high heat and wet nature of the dough combine, causing a mini-steam oven effect inside the covered dish. This results in a crust worthy of your local bakery, which is often elusive for the home bread baker due to the limitations of the home oven. Not a problem, though, with this recipe and baking technique. The texture of the bread is always beautiful...dense but not heavy, with air bubbles and a fabulous crumb. There is no strange foamy mouthfeel here. Just a deep, wholesome, flavor that belies the almost ridiculously easy and short preparation time.
This is a perfect go-to bread recipe for the weekend, when you want to indulge your inner baker but still have a life beyond dough-encrusted knuckles and worn out biceps. You can adjust the flours to whatever sounds great to you at the moment. Add some seeds for a toothy whole-grain version, or keep it simple and light with some healthy spelt or barley. Or indulge in the nutty wonderfulness of this semolina loaf. The possibilities are endless. However you make it, I know it will be a new favorite. Some things I'm just sure about (and when you've made something as often as I've made this, believe me, I'm sure). When the world is as crazy a place as it can be sometimes, it nice to have one or two 'for sure' things in your life, don't you think?
(Recipe submitted to YeastSpotting)
Disclaimer, please note, Achtung!: I am in no way claiming ownership or authorship of said no-knead bread recipe. When starting out on the no-knead adventure many years ago, I looked at AT LEAST a dozen different recipes. My initial forays, at the higher salt amounts (recipes varied from less than 1 tsp to 3 tsp), resulted in the previously reported disappointments, which are my personal opinions and in no way a reflection on any particular recipe...I have freely admitted in many earlier posts that I have pretty demanding taste buds, read low-taster (except for salt evidently). My recipe is tweaked to my preference with my preferred level of salt, flour ratios (with some healthy whole wheat additions), yeast type and amount, and the addition of some honey. Please feel free to adjust those levels to your liking; however, the posted recipe is the labor of love of which I am proud, and has received the seal of approval of more than a few bread addicts (besides myself). I incorporated the folding method from some site and/or recipe which I do not have bookmarked nor can recall. If someone has the site or cookbook so I can give them credit for that, please do let me know. Amen.
The Best No-Knead Bread (a variation of many variations out there....)
2 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour of choice, barley, spelt, semolina (as used here), or any combination
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 2/3 cup tepid water or room temperature spring water
2 tablespoons honey
Corn meal for the bottom of the baking dish (I used white corn meal)
Sesame seeds or other seeds for the top of the loaf, about 1/2 to 1 cup
Whisk all the dry ingredients in a large bowl, stirring to make sure everything is evenly distributed. Add the honey and water, and mix with a fork, until all the dry lumps are incorporated. The dough will be shaggy and lumpy. Cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel and set aside for about two to three hours, or until the dough has doubled and the surface is covered in very small bubbles or holes.
Use the folding technique described above, folding the dough over itself about eight times, recover and set aside another one to two hours, or until the dough has risen again until doubled. Repeat this step two to three more times depending on your schedule. You will need to allow about two hours for the final pre-heat, baking and cooling process. I usually start the last step around 4:00 pm for 6:00 pm dinner. Do not fold the dough down after the final rise. Do not deflate.
Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees, placing the baking dish in the cold oven with the lid on. After the dish has pre-heated for 30 minutes, carefully remove the lid and sprinkle and even layer of corn meal in the bottom of the dish. Pour the risen dough carefully into the baking dish, sprinkle the top of the dough with seeds if using, and quickly and gently replace the lid, carefully pushing the rack back in the oven. Bake covered for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, remove the lid and bake and additional 15 to 20 minutes until deeply golden brown. Remove the dish from the oven and let cool on a rack for 30 minutes. Remove the loaf from the dish to finish cooling. Don't slice into the loaf before it is completely cooled as the interior continues to bake once out of the oven. You can re-crisp the crust by placing in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes prior to eating.