Don’t Buy It: Bread and Other Baked Goods

5 03 2009

Remember those bread machines that were so popular in the 90s? They promised that you could have fresh hot bread with virtually no work whenever you liked, which was such an alluring draw that I begged for one for Christmas one year. Turned out it only made lumpish squares that were only really nice when they were still hot, and those only if you bought the special overpriced mixes for it at the store. I gave mine away. But the recipe for No Knead Bread is better than a bread machine. By now, practically everyone has heard of No Knead Bread, which started with Jim Lahey at the Sullivan Street Bakery, got famous courtesy of Mark Bittman at the NYT, hit the blogosphere via Rose Levy Beranbaum, and went viral from there. But No Knead Bread really is that good: It means you can have fresh hot bread with virtually no work whenever you like, and you don’t have to buy anything for it, except a few dollars worth of flour and salt every once in awhile. And the bread looks and tastes like a fabulous Italian sourdough boule that cost five bucks at the bakery. (My father, when he was visiting for Christmas, ate his way through about a loaf a day, and claimed he was addicted to it!) No Knead Bread also, I have discovered, is endlessly adaptable and permits almost endless neglect and error and still comes out wonderful.

A quick google search will get you more brilliant cooks’ adaptations than mine, but here’s my version, with smart remarks available exclusively here:

No Knead Bread

3 cups flour (all purpose or bread, plus you can make 1-2 cups of it whole wheat if you want a whole wheat bread)
1½ cups warm water
¼ teaspoon yeast (yes, only ¼ teaspoon, and you only need it for the first loaf)
1 teaspoon salt (The salt is essential. No salt = it looks like bread, but tastes like flour and water)

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl; it will be a shaggy, goopy mess when mixed. This is fine. Cover it with plastic wrap and put it in the warmest spot in your kitchen. Leave it alone for 12-24 hours (I usually mix it in the morning before work, but you can make it adjust to your schedule). At the end of this long sleep, flour a surface, wet your hands, and dump the dough out on the flour. With wet hands, grab the dough and fold all edges in toward the middle. Turn dough over so that you get a nice taut smooth surface. Place it on a floured towel and cover it up. Let it nap for one to two hours more. (In emergencies we’ve skipped the nap entirely. The bread survives.)

At the end of the nap, put a covered OVENPROOF pot in your oven (We use a big Corningware; it doesn’t matter what you use: just something sturdy and with no plastic on it). Crank up the heat to 450° and let it preheat for a few minutes (official recipe says 30 minutes — it doesn’t have to be that long, but it doesn’t hurt if it is, either). Then, take the hot pot out of the oven and dump the dough into the hot pot. If the dough sticks to the towel, don’t panic, just use a rubber spatula to scrape off the stickiness into the pot. Shake the pot a little to even out the dough. Cover and put back into the oven; bake covered for 27 minutes. Then uncover it and bake 11 minutes more. Remove and let cool. The pan doesn’t need to be greased; it should pop right out.

That’s all there is to it, and you get an absolutely crispy-crackly rustic Italian bread out of the deal. It’s five minutes of work for truly excellent pan quotidien. (I set the day’s loaf to nap and mix a new batch every morning before work, and my husband puts it in the oven in the midmorning. But if everyone is away from home during the day, you can mix it in the morning, set it to nap at dinner, and bake it before bed, too. It’s a forgiving recipe.)

Here’s another good part, though: you can make it into your very own natural wild sourdough (and not even bother with the bit of yeast) with a little more laziness. That bowl you let the dough sit in overnight? DON’T WASH IT. Just stir in the flour, salt, and water (no yeast) for tomorrow’s loaf, mixing it in with the residue from the previous dough. The long fermentation time on this loaf is adequate to capture and nurture some of the wild yeasts from the air, allowing you to turn the bread dough into a sourdough starter. The more loaves you make in the same dirty bowl, the more “sourdoughy” and distinctive to your own kitchen your loaf will begin to taste. At some point it usually gets too sour, and at that point you can wash the bowl and start over.

If you are out of flour or otherwise not planning to make bread for tomorrow, you can leave about 1/2 to 1 cup of bread dough in the bottom of the bowl and refrigerate it for a starter for your next loaf. This is a standard sourdough starter, and can be used as a base for sourdough pancakes, cake, or whathaveyou as well. If you’re planning to keep the starter in the fridge without making bread for more than a few days, you have to feed and maintain it to keep it alive, but why would you do that when you can just make another loaf of bread?

Also, another fabulous feature to this bread is that you can adapt it to become everything else bread. Pizza dough, for example: After its nap, flour a cutting board and shape a pizza crust. Spread abundant olive oil and a handful of cornmeal on a cookie sheet. Bake at 450 for 12 minutes, remove the crust from the oven, top with sauce, cheese, and toppings, and bake for 12 minutes more. Homemade pizza that is better than delivery — without a pizza stone or fancy anything — has become our new exhausted weeknight no-clue-what’s-for-dinner meal.

Raisin bread: stir raisins into the dough when mixing; after nap, pat it out to a rectangle, sprinkle on a layer of cinnamon and sugar, and roll up into a loaf.

Pizza bread: After nap, pat it out to a rectangle, layer on thin slices of mozzarella or provolone and pepperoni.

Etc., etc. Your imagination is the only limit. We haven’t bought any yeast baked goods for two years. Yum.




8 responses

15 03 2009

preheat oven to 450. but do you bake the bread at 450 for the 27 mins +11 mins more uncovered, or should the temp be lowered when you actually put the bread in to bake?

and is the raisin bread version baked in the same way?

thanks for the tutorial! will try a batch today!

15 03 2009

Yep, it gets baked at 450 the whole time, for raisin bread too. Let me know how it turns out for you!

12 04 2009
Don’t Buy It: Caramel Rolls « Don’t Buy It

[…] Caramel Rolls 12 04 2009 The most decadent, and also absurdly easy, thing you can do with No Knead Bread is to make caramel rolls out of it. Caramel rolls have now moved into the category of easy weekend […]

22 07 2009

I’ll have to try this, but honestly, kneading bread isn’t much work. It’s easy to do when watching TV or talking with friends. Making your own pasta is great as well, but it does take time to cut it for the smaller pasta sizes. I once tried to mill my own flour with a family flour grinder that we inherited. Bad idea! XD

8 08 2009

Here in Phoenix and I suppose in every corner of the United States there is available free or discounted food and clothing available for the asking. Check the food coop and foodshare and food bank websites and call a local community services number to locate a nearby food distribution program. Even if you have a good income, you can participate and support a cash and carry food box outreach.

14 08 2009
Carol Ann

I did try this recipe and will definitely keep it around, but it reminded me of an old favorite that I pulled back out of my brain. Beer bread. Wonderful stuff and the flavor can be changed easily by whatever type of beer you use. Only 3 ingredients: 1 can beer (12 oz), 3 cups of self rising flour and 1/3 cup sugar. I often substitute some of the flour with whole wheat flour. Mix it all together, put it immediately into a greased bread pan and bake up to 1 hr at 350 degrees. I have made it with cheap beer, Jamaican beer, and even blackberry beer- the flavor is all yours and it smells great. I even tried it as pizza dough for the beer and pizza feel. good stuff. enjoy.

22 10 2009
No Impact Week Day 4: Local Foods Only, Please « Don’t Buy It

[…] breakfast, we ate homemade No Knead Bread made with Sir Galahad King Arthur Flour, toasted, with Franklin Heyburn’s Vermont honey. Now, […]

8 07 2010
Math: Polish 1-10. « Don't-Buy-It Family Learning Experiments

[…] 1/2 cup no-knead bread sour dough […]

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