I. Love. Bread.
But more than that, I love fresh, homemade bread. It is my weakness. Give me a thick slice of warm, freshly baked bread with some butter and maybe a sprinkling of sea salt, and I will be your friend forever.
Aside from how AMAZING it is to have the aroma of baking bread fill your kitchen, it’s also nice to know exactly what’s going into your bread (no weird, extra ingredients, no preservatives). It also costs less than going to buy a decent loaf at the store. Bonus.
As much as I love baking, I can also be really lazy about certain steps required in bread baking. Like kneading, and then having to stick around the house, waiting for dough to rise so that you can shape it and let it rise again. Back in NY, I had a bread machine that did all of the work for me, so without much commitment, I could set the machine at night to have a fresh loaf of bread ready to eat in the morning.
Now, without a bread machine, all kneading has to be done by hand. I don’t actually mind it – it can be pretty therapeutic to slap some dough around for a few minutes. It’s more the clean up that often turns me off. You know – cleaning off the counter and scraping off bits of dough stuck there, trying to turn on the tap with your flour and dough-encrusted hands; using a toothpick to pick out the dough stuck in your rings because you forgot to take them off before getting elbow deep into a sticky mess.
This is where this amazing, life-saving no-knead bread comes in.
No-knead bread has been around for years, but I think the idea of it became mainstream (or, at least, mainstream to me) when the NY Times wrote about it here in 2006. I never tried this recipe, finding the time commitment a little TOO long, not to mention that I didn’t have an oven-safe 6 qt – 8 qt pot. Thus, the recipe was dismissed, though I kept the idea of it in the back of my mind.
Flash forward to 2014 when I’m living in Johannesburg without the aforementioned bread machine, a huge amount of free time on my hands, and a pretty consistent craving for warm, chewy bread. I started looking up bread recipes and came across Blogging Over Thyme’s post on a no-knead French boule. She did an adaptation on a recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.
No, you won’t immediately have a fresh loaf of bread made in 5 minutes. The “5 minutes” refers to the active time. BUT, once you have the dough made, it can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, meaning you can have homemade bread ready to eat in less than 2 hours. And even though there is the initial step of actually making the dough, it’s no more than taking the 5 minutes to mix the ingredients in a bowl and then letting it sit to rise for a couple of hours. After that, you can throw it into the fridge until ready to use, or take a portion of the dough to start on your first loaf.
Make yourself a cup of coffee or tea and get ready to purr “hello, gorgeous”. You’re going to smell this amazing aroma as it bakes in the oven, and when you take it out, you’ll notice a thick, sexy crust on it that will crackle as you cut off your first slice. The interior is soft and chewy with some body to it – the perfect setting for a nice smear of butter.
Take a bite. Get lost in the moment. Forget about all of the things that you should be doing or need to do, and just enjoy one of life’s little luxuries. Go ahead and let out a sigh of contentment.
A couple of notes before we get started:
1) I use a scale but have tried to provide accurate volume measurements, as well. Why is a scale better? Because when I measured out 4 cups of flour a bunch of different times and weighed it, I had everything from 513 grams – 548 grams. I settled on 525 grams because that was what showed up the most. Scientific, yes?
2) I only have iodised salt at the moment, so the measurement provided is specific to that. If you’re going to use kosher salt or something else, go with the original recipe’s measurement of 1 tbsp + 1 tsp to avoid having over- or under-salted bread!
3) Blogging Over Thyme provides a tip on how to get an extra crispy crust on your bread by providing steam while baking. I haven’t tried it yet, but if you’re curious, definitely give it a go!
This recipe for No-Knead French Boule makes roughly 2 x 2 lb loaves.
2.5 – 3 cups warm water
10 grams (just over a tablespoon) instant yeast
18 grams (1 tablespoon) salt
525 grams (4 cups) cake flour (all-purpose flour)
300 grams (2.5 cups) whole wheat flour
flour or cornmeal for dusting
To make the dough:
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, yeast, and salt. Make a well in the flour, and slowly pour in 2.5 cups of warm water while mixing with a wooden spoon or spatula. Go ahead and use your hands if 1) the dough gets too heavy for your spoon/spatula and 2) you don’t mind getting your hands dirty.
The dough should be wet and sticky. If it seems too dry or stiff, go ahead and add the remaining half cup of warm water, little by little. Just remember – you don’t have to knead it!
Cover up the bowl with a non-airtight lid (a loose film of cling wrap will do just fine) and let it sit and rise at room temperature for a couple hours*. Then, chuck it into the fridge to use later. If you want fresh bread ASAP, move onto the next step immediately!
*If it’s warm in your kitchen, check on the dough after 1 – 1 1/2 hours, and go ahead and stick it into the fridge if it looks like the yeast is pumping and the dough has doubled. You don’t want to lose all of the yeast-activating goodness in the first round of rising!
When you’re ready to have awesome bread:
Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper and a dusting of flour or cornmeal.
Grab your bowl of dough, and take out about half of the dough. Re-cover and put the remaining dough back in the fridge and let it chill for up to 2 weeks until you’re ready for another heathy helping of carbs.
On the prepared baking sheet, shape the dough into a round by pulling the top surface and stretching it to the bottom while quickly rotating the dough. Try to get a relatively smooth surface on the top – if you can’t, don’t worry. Your loaf will just have more character, and will still taste delicious.
Let that dough rest for about 45 minutes at room temperature. (If you don’t like leaving the dough “exposed” because of curious pets or pesky flying insects, then dust the top with some flour and lightly cover it with plastic wrap to protect it.)
Preheat your oven to 230 degrees Celsius (450 degrees Fahrenheit).
When the oven is ready, dust the loaf with flour and cut a scallop or hash pattern onto the top with a serrated knife. Aim for slashes that are about 1/2″ deep; otherwise the pattern will slowly disappear as the bread rises and bakes.
Slide the tray into the oven and bake for 35-50 minutes.
The original instructions say that you should use a thermometer to check that the internal temp is between 190-200 degrees Fahrenheit. I don’t have a thermometer, so I rely on my nose, the look and color of the loaf, and finally, the “tap test”.
If you’re not sure if the bread is cooked through all the way, try this: quickly take the bread out of the oven, carefully lift up a side of the loaf so that the bottom is exposed, and tap the bottom with your fingertip. If it sounds hollow, more likely than not, the bread is done. If it still sounds like a heavy thud, then throw it back into the oven for a little while longer.
Let the baked loaf rest and cool on rack for at least 15-20 minutes before slicing. Resist all temptation to slice it any sooner because if you do, you risk making the interior kind of gummy. Why do that to yourself?