No Knead Bread

18 February 2014

It all started innocently enough with an easy, “fun” bread recipe printed in the Food section of the New York Times. Called “No Knead” bread, it described how to combine flour, salt and a tiny amount of yeast with a bit of water, mix and let percolate for 18 hours while one goes about his or her business. At the 18-hour point, you plop it out onto a well-floured dishcloth and let it rise to double in size about another 2 to 4 hours. When it doubles in size, you put a lidded Dutch oven or heavy pot in the oven and bring your oven to 475-500º. Then you handily flip the risen blob of dough into the hot pot, replace the lid and bake. Easy as pie! A gorgeous boule ensues!  I couldn’t wait to try it, and did…with disastrous results.

The theory behind this recipe is sound. Using a heavy pot with a lid creates a miniature oven inside your oven, trapping the moisture for the bread to use and creating that perfectly crisp crust. It’s a way for the average home baker to get the kind of results traditionally achieved by a commercial bread oven.  The very wet dough (which couldn’t be kneaded even if you wanted to stays better hydrated inside the lidded pot.

My first try went nicely, up to and including dumping it out onto the floured dishcloth.  With my oven at 500º I attempted to flip dough from dishcloth to screamingly hot pot.  No dice.  The dough stuck to the dishcloth like fly to flypaper.  I screamed to my wife, “Help!” and we both tried to get it unstuck.  Finally with knife and scissors we managed to release at least some of the dough (along with some of the dishcloth) into the pot.  We then discarded the residual blob, still connected to the accompanying dishtowel.

It just didn’t work.  Luckily, I don’t quit easily. I proceeded to watch a video of the author and master bread baker performing said feat and saw some discrepancies, which I quickly decided to inquire about. I followed up with email correspondence and criticism.  And apparently I wasn’t the only one who had problems.  Hundreds of others complained and a follow-up article acknowledging problematic instructions was printed. I‘m not convinced that the whole thing wasn’t an intentional publicity stunt. But we’ll never know.

The end result of all this fuss is a simple “Only Knead a Little, Only If You Want To” recipe for delicious homemade bread. Here is that recipe.

In mixer or large bowl, mix 500 grams of bread flour (3½ cups) with 1 teaspoon active dry yeast (or 1/4 cup live bread starter) and 1½ teaspoons of salt.  When these dry ingredients are blended, mix in 1½ cups of water.  Let this nice wet mixture bubble away in a bowl for 18 hours or so covered with plastic wrap. Try to pick an appropriate size bowl, so that dough rises up instead of spills sideways.

With a spatula, spill the dough out onto floured work surface or cutting board and, if so desired, knead it for a minute using a little additional flour if necessary, and form into a nice ball.Line your bowl with parchment paper. Drop in the dough.  Cover with a dishcloth and let rise until double in size, two to four hours. Heat oven and dutch oven or large heavy pot with lid to 475º.  Using hefty oven mitts take out the pot. Using parchment paper as a sling, lift dough out of the bowl and down into the hot pot, parchment paper and all.  Put the lid on and bake for 30 minutes. Take lid off pot and continue baking for another 10-15 minutes at reduced temperature of 425º.  Be alert and monitor the browning of bread continuously here.  It can quickly go to far.It’s done when it’s done.  You’re the boss.  Internal temperature should be 190º to 210º F.  Restrain yourself and let cool completely before you indulge, then eat quickly.  It gets stale in a hurry.  No preservatives. However the next few pages have some great recipes that work really well with this bread in day old form.

Congratulations…You did it!!