Big Girls, Test Kitchen: Late-to-the-Party No-Knead Bread

Posted by on Monday Jan 25th, 2010 | Print

DISH: My Weekly Bread
MAIN INGREDIENTS: Flour, Yeast, Salt, Water

In November of 2006, when no-knead bread was sweeping the internet cooking world, I was living in a dorm room. I had no oven, no place to keep flour, and no covered pyrex or cast iron pot for baking. Even if I’d heard about the phenomenon, which I didn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to do much to hoist myself onto the rapidly expanding bandwagon.

In my first apartment, I played around a bit with baking bread. I made whole wheat and oatmeal loaves from my mom’s old Laurel’s Kitchen bread book. Though the scent of the yeasty doughs rising and baking subsumed the tiny place in remarkable smells, I found I didn’t always get through a whole loaf, and it all seemed more work than it was worth–especially sweeping up the endless sprays of flour from the apartment that were a result of doing my kneading at the coffee table.

When I came back to the no-knead recipe, it was making a slight resurgence on the internet due to the publication of a book by Jim Lahey, the baker behind it all. I’d also been going through a toast-for-breakfast phase, and I wanted badly to make this bread all fall. But I didn’t have the right pot–you need a heavy pot with a lid. I didn’t own one. On Christmas, I became the proud owner of two Le Creuset pots (thanks, mom), and I got to work right away.

I’ve made five loaves since then, and it’s just not getting old. I like to start the loaves on Friday or Saturday afternoon, then let them rise all night. In the morning, I get up early and shape and flour the dough, then doze off or do errands for an hour and a half until it’s time to preheat the oven. When the bread finally comes out, I load the table with condiments and knives, and then Alex and I attack it. He dips bread in peanut butter and a little bit of jelly; I go for salted butter and sometimes thinly sliced Jarlsberg. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit we tend to get through half a loaf. Then I eat more modest slices, toasted, the rest of the week for breakfast. It’s a system I think I could get used to.

In terms of experiments and tweaks: first and foremost, I abandoned the recipe’s original “instant yeast” the moment I realized it wasn’t what was in packets I had in my fridge. Instead, I mix active dry yeast with water and let it bubble before pouring over the flour. Right now I use 3/4 teaspoon, but I think I could play with using even less. I also usually have a bit more than the 12-18 hours prescribed for rising, so I keep the bread in the fridge for the last 6 or so hours of the rise (while I’m sleeping). So far, this hasn’t seemed to have much of an impact–it just slows down the rising. My most recent loaf featured 1 cup of stone-ground whole wheat flour to 2 cups of white, and it was great. I’ll definitely be playing around with flours in the coming loaves.

For now, all I can do is echo what every food blogger of the past four years has been saying: make this bread. It can easily be part of your routine, which is good, because you’ll easily become addicted to it.

From my kitchen, where I’m fashionably late, to yours,

Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK

No-Knead Bread
Makes 1 loaf
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s NY Times Article

A trick for getting the water to the right temperature is to hold your wrist under the stream from the tap. If you can’t really feel the water, you’ve got the right temperature. If it feels cold or warm to your wrist, adjust accordingly.

Ingredients
3 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 2/3 cups room temperature water
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Cornmeal or more floured as needed

Combine about 1/2 cup of water and the yeast. Stir to combine. Set aside for about 10 minutes, until the yeast bubbles. This activates the yeast and confirms that it’s alive. Add the rest of the water.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and the salts. Pour the yeast-water over the flour, then use a rubber spatula to form a soft, ugly dough. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise for about 12 hours, until there are bubbles across the top.

If you’re not ready to bake, place the bowl in the fridge. Otherwise, proceed with the recipe.

Dump the dough out onto a floured surface. Let it rest for 15 minutes. Then, using as little flour as possible, shape the dough into a ball by folding the ends in. Turn onto a cornmeal-dusted non-terrycloth dishtowel, seam side down. Dust with more cornmeal, then cover with another towel. Leave for two hours.

When there’s a half hour left to go of this rise, preheat the oven to 450°F and put a covered, heavy pot in the oven.( I use my 5.5 quart LeCreuset to achieve a well-proportioned loaf.) When the dough is ready, carefully take the pot out of the oven. Dump the dough, seam side up, into the pot and shake it to spread evenly. Cover and bake for 20-30 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15-30 minutes, until deeply brown and crusty. Let the bread rest as long as you can before slicing into it.

I store my bread in an airtight baggie, even though this makes the crust soft. To “re-crust” a whole loaf, you can dab it all over with water and bake for about 10 minutes in a 450°F oven. If you’re going slice by slice, just toast to rectify the crust.

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  • Kate

    Wow! Your pictures are absolutely stunning. Not only does it sound easy, but because of the pot, you get perfectly shaped round loaves without any work. I'd never have known it was so little work!!

  • Jill

    looks delicious and salted butter sounds like the perfect condiment!
    and to quote Hamptons magazine:
    In: No-knead bread
    Out: Fashionably late!
    xo

  • Susan Lindquist

    This bread looks like it would taste like rustica bread … chewy, crunchy crust, big bubbles, perfect for dipping in olive oil… yes? I'm wondering if you think it could stand up to the addition of sunflower seeds, flaxseed, and perhaps millet? What do you think?

  • bigBANG studio

    OMG. I have been *searching* for something just like this Cara, and you've done such a fabulous job explaining it yes, your pictures are LOVELY! Good photography can really boost the appeal or a recipe, huh!

    xoxo to you both-

  • Cooking with Denay

    Okay I have to share this recipe with the home-based bakers in my class. This is amazing!

  • Hannah

    When no-knead bread was making it's first ascent I was just out of high school. So glad u shared it – otherwise I would never have known about it's wonders!

  • Susanne

    Is 3/4 teaspoon yeast the same amount as in one of those packets you can buy? This recipe looks great!!

  • Bea

    Have you tried the Cook's Illustrated version? They add some beer (cheap American lager) and it gives the bread a slightly sourdough-ish flour. It's nice too.

  • Phoebe and Cara, the Quarter-Life Cooks

    Susanne: there is at least a tablespoon in each packet of active dry yeast. So one packet ekes out several loaves of no-knead bread!

  • Alex

    It really is the best thing ever. I find it hard to believe that something so good comes from so few ingredients! I wish it was Saturday morning now…

  • Alex

    P.S. great pictures

  • Calvine

    I made this last night (well, over the past two days) following only your directions and had huge success – you've officially turned me into an obsessive bread baker! There were about six times that I thought it wouldn't work, but I pushed through and it turned out well beyond my expectation. Just wanted to let you know, thanks!!

  • Pallavi

    i made the bread today and it came out beautifully!!

    Thanks! But i was wondering why do we need to use 2 diff salts? (kosher and sea salt) and could i use just sea salt and some normal table salt?

  • Big Girls, Small Kitchen

    Calvine–Thanks for the recap! I'm thrilled to hear how well your bread turned out.

    Pallavi–When I was developing my version of the bread, I decided to increase the salt from the original recipe. But I worried about the bread being too salty, which is why I decided to use my milder sea salt. However, you can just use all one kind–preferably kosher salt.

  • Susanne

    OK – for some reason I printed out the Mark Bittman version of this recipe and made it today. It was actually pretty good (though a little flat) but I KNOW that your version will be much better. Cooking it in my Le Creuset is just genius. Trying again this weekend. Thanks for an inspiring recipe – bread breaking is so satisfying!!

  • Tracy223

    We had a big snow this weekend, so I decided to spend it cooking. I made this bread and it turned out soooo great!!! I was suprised at the few ingredients, how easy it was to make, and so delicious!!!! I will definitley be making it again. Thanks for the great recipe and wonderful pictures. I am now a BGSK addict, so many recipes I want to try!!!

  • Mr. Bill

    Borrowed a few hints from Cooks Illustrated!! Enjoy!

    http://whstoneman.blogspot.com/2009/06/my-favorite-bread.html

    Added a few ingredients to develop the mild flavor.

  • kim b

    i want to make this bread but I don't have a heavy pot with a lid. can I use my heavy stone mini loaf pan without a lid from pampered chef? It makes four mini loaves.

    • Mebrumbaughauthor

      I use a cast iron skillet and cover it with aluminum foil domed in place of a lid; works perfectly this way, just remove it at the end as you would the lid to the pot.

  • Meinhart

    Leave it to me to find this recipe on a monday night (well, tuesday morning, since it's just past midnight)

    I'll have to wait all week before I can try this.
    Meantime, I've got a few questions : what's ugly dough, and how can dough have a seam side ?

    I thikn perhaps I'm tired after all, and I didn't read carefully enough. I'll be back (yeah, you know it, I'm back every day *grin*)

    • sherice

      I think she means “seam side” because your pulling the edges in to the center to make it round so that would be your seam side :)

  • Trisha M

    Question! If you use instant yeast would I just not wait the 10 minutes?? This is my first bread so I am not really sure what I am doing! Thanks!

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      You can still wait the 10 minutes. It’s always a good idea to let your yeast bubble so you know it’s alive. Good luck!

  • Priyanka

    Hi Cara, I just started following your blog and I enjoy getting a glimpse at your life, your thoughts and your adventures in the kitchen. Inspired by a friend of mine, I recently committed to doing some new every day for the next 30 days. This resulted in my wanting to make homemade bread and voila……you had a recipe that didn’t seem too intimidating.

    I followed every step which resulted in PERFECT, warm, crusty, soft bread. My kitchen smelt divine when it was baking and I had to literally hide the bread from my husband to prevent him from eating the whole loaf! Thanks Cara….this recipe has officially been printed and cataloged in my personal recipe book as a fantastic hit!

    Funny story…….On Saturday evening, I was in the process of ‘activating’ my yeast. After 8 batches of yeast water resulting in no froth or bubbles, I realized that my bottle of yeast was no good. Refusing to give up, I went back to the store – in my pjs and uggs, with flour in my hair, went to customer services and said, “THIS YEAST IS DEAD!!!” Instead of judging the crazy lady yelling about yeast on a Saturday night, the very nice teenager behind the counter walked around the store with me and helped me purchase multiple options of yeast in exchange for my dead yeast!

    After yelling ‘Look Alive, LOOK ALLLIIIVVVEEE’ to my 9th batch of yeast, the little frothy white bubbles were the most beautiful thing I ever saw. Well not as beautiful as my lovely loaf of bread for Sunday morning!

    Thanks again Cara!
    Priyanka

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      Priyanka–sorry for the slow response! I am so, so happy to hear that BGSK is getting you into the kitchen and making bread. Such a funny story about the yeast…I’m reading Michael Pollan’s Cooked right now and am thinking about sourdough starters, so maybe there was something in the air that helped the bread rise even if the yeast was sort of sluggish. Hope you’re finding even more things to cook on BGSK!

      • Priyanka

        I also tried your ‘paneer burji’ and it was really good. And coming from someone who’s grown up on home cooked Indian food, you should be very proud of your recipe!

        • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

          yay!