No-Sweat Bread

My First Loaf of No-Knead Bread

At long-last, I joined the club: I made my first loaf of the sensational no-knead bread, from the Jim Lahey technique popularized by Mark Bittman in the New York Times a couple years ago.

I have always been a little shy about baking. It always seemed like hard science, and I have always seen myself as more of a poet, better suited to the no-measure, dash-of-this-dash-of-that of cooking. In truth, I greatly enjoy science and have been avoiding the oven all these years more from laziness than anything.

Thanks to Lahey and Bittman, however, even laziness is an unworthy excuse. The entire “active” part of the process takes ten minutes, if done with absurd deliberation – maybe twelve minutes if one adds in the washing-up time. It takes me longer to ride the five kilometers and back to fetch a loaf of exquisite Transylvania Bakery peasant bread than to make one of my own, leaving aside the time the dough is doing its own thing, with no help from me – fermenting, resting, rising, or baking. Way longer.

The no-knead methodology is based on two simple ideas. The first is that, by combining a relatively wet, sloppy dough and a long-ass fermentation opportunity, you get a wonderfully moist, open-structured crumb. The second involves doing the first two-thirds of the high temperature bake within an enclosed dutch oven. Patterned after the ancient French technique of baking within a cloche (clay pot), the dutch oven method traps the steam from the baking bread, providing sufficient humidity within the baking vessel to yield a loaf with a thick, crunchy crust.

There has never been a justification for eating crap bread. But now, there seems little reason to regularly spend $5-8 on decent bread when you can make better-than-decent bread for a tenth of that, with no more effort than it takes to purchase it.

Open Structrure of Crumb in No-Knead Bread

5 Responses to “No-Sweat Bread”

  1. 1 Donna 27 May 2009 at 9:34 pm

    Nice looking loaf!

  2. 2 millyonair 2 June 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Thanks for the recipe link! I’m going to try this!!

  3. 4 blackmamba 15 June 2009 at 2:42 pm

    That is awesome! I am huge fan of Bittman. Tried out my first vegan chocolate dish this weekend – the vegan mexican chocolate pudding. It turned out pretty good. Except I will go with lesser cinnamon the next time around. :)

  4. 5 mbjesq 27 December 2009 at 12:12 am

    Here are some thoughts on bread-baking, six-months and more than 50 loaves into it.

    I haven’t used dry yeast since June, though there is certainly nothing wrong with this approach. I leaven with sourdough starter.

    When I make sourdough bread, I make 4 cup loaves, substituting 3/4 – 1 cup of starter in place of the 1/4 teaspoon of dry yeast and using 1-1/2 cups of water. I also knead the dough — mostly because I think kneading is the most fun part, but also because it helps me adjust the moisture content of the dough (because, if it’s too moist, you have to dust with flour to prevent it from sticking). Of course, this also helps develop the glutens.

    One nice way to make a lightly sour bread using the dry yeast is to make a double batch; bake half; reserve the other half in the refrigerator; add the makings of the next loaf to the reserved dough so you once again have a double batch; repeat. This allows the bacilli to colonize the faux starter.

    About half the loaves I make are Pain au Levain style whole-wheat sourdoughs. I use 1 – 3 cups of whole wheat flour with 3 – 1 cups for unbleached bread flour (or all purpose flour), but never 4 cups of whole wheat. Because whole wheat flour doesn’t have the same amount of gluten, the crumb structure will be tighter and the loaf denser. There’s no reason not to make a fully whole-wheat loaf; I just prefer it otherwise.

    My oven is probably quite a bit off, but I don’t think that Jim Leahy is entirely right about the “blazing oven”. If my oven is set at 450 F, the bottom of my bread burns a bit; so I keep the dial at 425. Who knows what the true temperature is, but I’d guess it runs low, not high. I also use a slightly longer first baking time: 35 minutes lid-on, 15 minutes lid-off.

    One last hint. There are several good reasons to refrigerate the dough after the first rise. First, this makes the dough much easier to handle. Second, it allows you to bake the bread on your timetable — even a day or so later — rather than based on when you started it or when the dough proofs.

    If you refrigerate the dough, it would take considerably longer than an hour for the second rise to double the volume; but I never let the dough “rise” for more than an hour, even though the re-expansion is negligible. I find that over-proofing on the second rise often causes the loaf to fall flat; whereas, if I don’t fully proof it, I get fabulous oven-spring, a nice full loaf, and a perfect crumb structure.

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