I am someone who lives in the perpetual struggle between wanting to live frugally and wanting to eat well. There are certain non-negotiables: organic dairy products; decent wine/beer; and until recently, good bread. There are two fabulous local bakeries that we like to support (don’t you love it when a good cause is also the best food around?), but we are also bread-hogs, and our little habit was costing us maybe $50 a month. I’d tried baking bread off and on for the last few decades, but the best I could do was a very good (but highly specific) polenta bread and a decent sandwich loaf. All other attempts were met with varying degrees of disappointment and rage. By me, I hasten to add. Len loves whatever I cook and is uniformly supportive (which I don’t understand but revel in).
So imagine my skepticism when I read about these “no-knead” bread strategies that cost less than a buck a loaf. But imagine my experimental enthusiasm as well! A few weeks ago, I tried it. This is the recipe that, I believe, started with Mark Bittman’s thing on no-knead bread, but I found it here at the Italian Dish Blog. It seems like an awful lot of flour (and I changed it some, as detailed below), but then, it makes three loaves of bread! And the most incredible thing is that it is really really easy AND really really delicious. Raise your skeptical eyebrows all you want, people. Try it and see.
So several times a week, now, our house is filled with the glorious aroma of baking bread; our lives are enriched by those first warm slices slathered in melting butter; our ordinary toast — with jam, with melted cheddar, with slices of creamy avocado — is now a thing of transcendent beauty. Once a week I mix a new batch and let it sit. Honestly, the worst thing about this whole undertaking is that the bowl I use takes up too much room in the fridge. Poor poor me.
So here’s the recipe:
- 3 cups warm water
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons (or 4 1/2 teaspoons or 2 packets) granulated fast-acting yeast
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons (ditto) coarse salt
- 3 1/2 cups bread flour
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
You mix the yeast and salt into the warm water — I use a fork to make sure it’s all dissolved.
Mix the flours together and then add them to the yeasty water all at once. Mix until moist.
Cover and allow to rise (not airtight) for about two hours — longer is fine. We understand the vagaries of life, and so does this dough. (And in case you feel like there’s some professional fancy dough-covering device needed — nah. I use a recycled plastic grocery bag with the handles tied in front. Sue me.)
Refrigerate at least 3 hours (this dough is really sticky and wet, and refrigeration makes it easier to handle). I leave the bowl in the fridge for up to a week, taking off what I need as I go. Though you will be tempted to rest other foodstuffs on TOP of the dough bowl, it’s probably not a great idea.
To bake: put a sheet of parchment paper on a lipless cookie sheet or pizza peel. When it curls up repeatedly, curse under your breath and place the parchment paper box lengthwise across it to hold it down while you prepare the dough.
Cut off, with a serrated knife, about a third of the dough. If it’s sticking to your hands, you can dust them with flour, but I rarely need to do that, and it’s much faster if you don’t have to get things OUT for this. Shape the dough into a sausagey-french-loaf-kind-of-shape as quickly as you can, pulling the top under to the bottom and hanging it to lengthen it . The surface should be taut and smooth. This should all take maybe 30 seconds. Set dough on parchment paper-covered cookie sheet. Let rise 30-40 minutes (and don’t worry if it doesn’t do much. Mine rarely does).
20 minutes before baking, put a pizza stone in the center rack of the oven and a shallowish pan on a lower rack (I find it best if the pan is not directly beneath the stone). Preheat your oven to 450.
Immediately before baking, slash the top of the bread three times with a sharp knife. Slide the dough, paper and all, onto the hot pizza stone. Then quickly pour one cup of water into the pan and close the oven door. Bake 30 minutes, turning the paper once if your oven is crappy and uneven like mine.
When bread is almost finished, use a clean towel to lift the loaf briefly, peel off the paper, and return the bread to the stone (ideally to a new, hotter spot on said stone). Crisp for five more minutes to brown the bottom crust.
Enjoy your absolute wizardry; brag to all your friends. Regret it when they demand taste-tests. A few days (or hours) later, when your loaf is gone, just grab more dough from the bowl and fire it all up again.
A last note: when you go to make a new batch, you don’t have to wash out the bowl. According to the authors at The Italian Dish Blog, the leftover yeasty doughy goodness just adds to the flavor. And indeed it does, my friends. Indeed it does. Divine.
If all this sounds a little much, rest assured that it’s quicker than reading these instructions. It’s quicker than BUYING bread. It’s a simple habit to develop and you’ll be glad you did. (Heavens, you’d think I was investing in your bread success. I don’t know how to do that.) Anyway, enjoy.