Have I mentioned that I love bread? Well, I do. I love it. And I love baking it. But why does it have to be so difficult?? The chewy, crusty loaves that I adore are typically no more than yeast, flour, salt, and water. Four ingredients. Put them together right and you can bring grown men to tears. Put them together wrong and you can use your brick-like, inedible loaves to knock out purse snatchers.
There are likely some famous bakers who will argue that bread baking is a science. But to me it seems more like a faith-based undertaking. You can follow a recipe to the letter and still fail. In the end, it all comes down to the whim of a higher power: The Great Loafmaster. He is a fickle god, and apparently he is displeased with me.
Last week I spent the better part of two days putting together the various elaborate components of Peter Reinhart’s “Transitional Multigrain Bread.” Despite my fastidious attention to detail, I ended up with two bricks of whole-grain sawdust (to be fair, I think my yeast was dead).
Well, enough is enough! I’m taking a stand. Do you hear me, Loafmaster? No more bowing and kissing your pinkie ring in a vain attempt to achieve The Perfect Loaf. I’ll settle for the Pretty Damn Good Loaf. If you too are fed up with elitist bread books that talk about bigas and windowpane tests and gluten and fussy sourdough starters, welcome to the wonderful world of no-knead bread.
I first came across no-knead bread (like so many others) in the New York Times. It was a revelation, crusty, chewy, and moist. It’s not that I mind kneading. I don’t. But these loaves are simple and forgiving: They come out perfect nearly every time. No fussing, no crossed fingers, no hail marys.
The recipe in the New York Times is good. But it’s better with a few tweaks. My recipe is a hybrid of the New York Times’ recipe and Cook’s Illustrated’s “Almost No-Knead Bread.”
Cassie’s Hybrid No-Knead Bread
In a large bowl, whisk together:
- 3 cups bread flour (or 2 cups bread flour and 1 cup whole wheat, or 2 cups bread flour and 1 cup rye)
- 1/4 tsp of instant or rapid rise yeast
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- (if you’re making rye bread, you may want to add 1 1/2 – 2 Tbsp of caraway seeds. These are optional)
In a 2-cup measuring cup, mix together:
- 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp of lager beer
- 1 Tbsp of white vinegar
Then fill the cup with cool water to make 1 1/2 cups of liquid total.
Use a spoon to mix the liquid with the dry ingredients until combined. You should have a really sticky dough. Cover your dough with plastic wrap and let rise 12-18 hours (18 is best). Dump the dough out onto a heavily floured counter. Sprinkle dough liberally with flour. Now you’re going to try to knead the bread just a bit. Add just enough flour to make 8-10 “kneads” possible. The dough can still be sticky.
Line a skillet with parchment paper. Put your dough on top of the paper, spray or rub the dough with oil, and cover the whole thing loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise 2 or 2 1/2 hours. It should rise quite a bit.
Half an hour before the dough has finished rising, place a large, heavy pot, such as a dutch oven (I love this one), in the oven and preheat to 450 degrees. (Dutch ovens typically come with plastic handles that aren’t rated for 450 degrees. I’ve replaced my handle with a metal one.) Let the pot heat up for at least 20 minutes (30 is better). Take the pot out of the oven, remove the cover, and place the dough in the pot. This is easiest if you use the parchment paper like a sling: Grab both ends of the parchment paper and place the whole thing (parchment paper and all) in the pot. Place the cover on the pot (it’s ok if the ends of the paper hang out). Lower temperature to 425 and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and bake another 20-30 minutes.
The loaf should be dark brown. Allow to cool for 2 hours. Slice and enjoy!