Last year, a Scissorhead wrote me and asked me what I thought about the no-knead bread article in the NYTimes. I think I said “not much, but I have not tried it yet.”
I’m suspicious of things that say you can have it all without any work. It makes me think of that swine, Graves.
Truthfully, I like kneading bread, I find it relaxing, and on bad days, I can take out my aggressions on bread dough rather than my friends and family. There will be a lot of bread around here during the 2012 Goat Rodeo, methinks.
But I’m here today to tell you that this thing does actually work and it makes some decent bread; you will not win a prize at the county fair, but you will have a nice chewy loaf of bread that you can enjoy with your soup or salad, and the effort is minimal.
And if you are diligent, you can have bread every day.
How it works
You were waiting for this part, right?
Essentially what you are making is a sponge, closer to a batter than a dough. You mix this up and you let it sit for 10 hours. You do this for two reasons:
- You want the flour to be completely hydrated
- You want the yeast to fully proof and develop some character, some flavor.
This sticky mess couldn’t be kneaded if you tried, so don’t try. The author says to drop it onto a counter and fold it a few times – which is essentially kneading it, but Shh! and then roll it onto a well-floured towel (which should be dedicated to this operation, especially if you decide to make this daily), seam side up.
What you are really doing in this step is redistributing the yeast and feeding it some fresh flour, and essentially you are going to give it a second rise at this point. The towel is there to help you move the sticky loaf later and to keep the dough reasonably safe from drying out.
In the meanwhile you have preheated your oven to 450°, and you have put a cast iron dutch oven in it to preheat as well. A word of caution: if you use Le Creuset make sure you have swapped the heat-proof plastic-looking knob for a metal knob. Those plastic ones will explode in your oven somewhere around 500°, and I’d love to tell you how I know this.
When you plop the bread (seam side down) in the now-heated dutch oven, it will sizzle. Remember that it is a very wet dough, and you can shake the oven somewhat to re-arrange it if you think you must. Put the lid on it and stick it in the 450° oven.
What you are actually doing in this step is providing a steamy, hot environment, with the moisture from the loaf enclosed in the dutch oven. Professional bakeries have ovens that inject steam on the loaves, and this allows them to rise quickly before the heat hardens the crust and gives the much-desired crunchy crust of artisan breads.
OK, you knew this was coming, too, right?
I increase the yeast to 1/2 teaspoon and I skip the folding step entirely; it doesn’t need a 2-hour second rise. I just plop the dough out from the mixing bowl right into the oven. It deflates as you handle it, so handle it gently as you can. Yes, it would probably be better if I did all the steps, but when I compared and contrasted them (and I did do side-by-side bake-offs. The things I do for you people!), I didn’t taste a significant difference. The nicely folded version admittedly does look better if you give it the full 2-hour treatment, but it also collapses when you plop it into the dutch oven. They both developed nice crusts, had lots of interesting air bubbles and other structures.