There’s nothing quite like the smell of baking bread. It fills your house with the promise of all things good, cozy and warm. Even though my mom didn’t bake bread all that much while I was growing up, the smell of freshly baked bread hits me with nostalgia every time.
People will argue about the different qualities that make one loaf of bread superior than another, and I’m sure they all have their valid points. For me, what I usually look for is a crackly thin crust, and a airy, yet chewy, holey interior.
If you’ve made your loaf of bread right, it’s crackly crust will sing to you as it’s cooling off. A good crust is the first indication that you’ve bake a successful loaf. Good crusts are so important that they talk about them in children’s cartoons!
I’m talking about Ratatouille of course, and if you haven’t seen it, you should. I love the scene where Colette teaches Linguini how to tell one good loaf of bread from another. She takes a baguette, holds it next to his ear and gently squeezes it with her hand. The resulting crackle of the crust literally speaks to you about it’s quality.
Before no-knead bread I’ve never made a loaf of bread sing to me, but this no-knead bread recipe is so easy, that if I wanted, I could have a chorus singing to me every morning. No knead bread was a huge thing a couple years ago when a The New York Times article was published highlighting Sullivan Street Bakery’s Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread technique.
The very wet dough and slow fermentation is what creates the fantastic crumb and the crackling crust of the no-knead loaf. The best part—aside from the fact that you definitely have all the ingredients in your pantry—is that the active portion of this recipe is about 5 minutes. You stir together flour, water, yeast and salt and then let time do the work.
Thing is, you have to be patient if you’re going to make no-knead bread. After your shaggy dough goes through it’s initial rise (about 18 hours), it needs another little nap after you shape it. Then it’s throw it into a pre-heated pot and bake, lid on for half an hour and then lid off for another 15 minutes or so.
When your loaf finally comes out of the oven, golden brown, rustic and singing, your patience will really be tried. You could cut into it right away, while it’s piping hot, but trust me, letting the crust cool and crackle makes the crust even better.
No Knead Bread Recipe adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery, from nytimes.com
1 1/2 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 cups warm water
1/8 teaspoon instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature.
Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice to form a ball shape.
Generously coat a cotton towel with flour and put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450˚F. Put a 6 to 8 quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Notes: When shaping the dough into a ball shape, I used a silicone spatula to minimize sticky fingers. I also turned the dough out onto a Silpat, which I floured, but didn’t need to. When I make this bread again, I’m going to use something other than a floured towel for the second rise; too much dough stuck to the towel even though I more than generously floured it.