Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bread you won't believe you made

First of all, WHEW! It has been forever since I posted. The past six weeks have included a more concentrated period of baking and cooking than any other in my life and I'm sure that has contributed to my absence. But...inspiration has been growing. Every day for a week my desire to actually sit down and write this post has grown and today finally, it is so strong that I am absolutely compelled to do so. I cannot resist the urge, and if I miss the chance to exercise, or dust the banister, so be it. I can be silent NO LONGER! And this post in sheer length, will make up for lost time!

No-knead bread. Have you heard of it? I'm told that a few years ago, this phenomenon, developed by Jim Lahey of New York's City's Sullivan Street Bakery was spread far and wide across the internet by a video post on Mark Bittman's blog. Mark Bittman is a famous chef and foodie, who's credits include the masterful tome, How to Cook Everything. Well, I don't know where I was during that blogosphere wild-fire, because I didn't know anything about it. That is, until about a year ago when a fellow foodie brought a loaf of this bread to one of our supper clubs. It boggled my mind that he had made, in his very own kitchen, such a bread. A bread which rivaled most and easily surpassed many of the $5 loaves in the Artisan section of my local grocery store. The crust was crisp and dappled with flour, the crumb chewy but airy at the same time, the flavor tangy and complex. I was sold. Since then, I have been baking this bread often, but something happened over Christmas that took my bread-baking to a whole new level. I have been feverishly baking a loaf almost every day since. That something was the gift of Jim Lahey's very own cookbook, My Bread, which came out this fall. In his book, he goes into the detail of the method and then inspires with ideas for tweaking the ingredients and adding different flours, liquids and "mix-ins" to make dozens of different varieties. Not only that, but his ideas have inspired me to try my own and my creative juices have been flowing!

Let me answer a couple questions you may have, such as; "what is the method?" or "what is the big deal?" Well, I figured the best way was to show you step by step so you can easily follow along and recreate. I will tell you that active time with this bread, is about 8 minutes, but the total time, which includes time to let it rise and bake is about 15-21 hours. But you must understand, that's 8 minutes of your actual life doing actual work and the rest of the time the bread is sitting happily on its own, becoming beautiful for you and yours.

A word about flour: Another of my Christmas gifts was a kitchen scale. I have never baked with one before but I enjoy it. I feel like a little scientist and my baking is better for it, but its not essential. If you don't have a scale, just make SURE that when you measure the flour that you FLUFF IT FIRST! I have found that if you scoop and fluff up the flour before going in for the measuring cup full and then leveling it off with a knife, that it is almost exactly accurate to the weight Jim suggests. However, if you just go into flour that's rested and start scooping without the fluffing step, you will end up with about 1/4 cup too much flour in the dough and that really does make a difference in the final product. So, fluff people, FLUFF!

1. Mix the dough: The base recipe is:

3 fluffed, scooped and leveled cups of all-purpose or bread flour.
2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1.25 teaspoons table salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/3 cup cool tap water.

I like to mix this in my stand mixer with the paddle attachment but you can also use a bowl and wooden spoon (as Jim recommends). I put in all the dry ingredients, blend them for 10 seconds, then add the water and blend for another 30-60 seconds until well incorporated.

2. The first rise: Scrape down the sides of the bowl and leave the dough in the bottom. Cover with plastic wrap and set in the warmest spot in your house, although not above 72 degrees. Let it sit undisturbed for 12-18 hours. I always try to leave it for 18, but I've done it after as short as 8 (gasp!) and its been delicious. The longer it sits the more the flavor develops as the yeast works with the flour. The top two pictures show the dough in the beginning, the bottom two are after 16 hours.

3. The 2nd rise: Flour a board or your countertop generously and turn out the sticky, stringy dough onto it. By folding the dough over itself, form a small round. Generously flour one half of a kitchen towel (not terrycloth which the dough won't release well from) and set the dough on it. Dust the top of the round generously with flour and cover the bread with the other half. Let rest in a warm place for 2 hours. Most homes are 67 degrees plus and will work. I put mine about 10 feet from my gas fireplace, so its rises really nicely in the ambient heat.

4. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees: Do this 90 minutes into the 2nd rise. It needs to preheat for 30 minutes WITH your baking vessel inside. That way the oven and the vessel are fully preheated when you start to bake the bread. So, what kind of vessel do you need. Jim calls for a dutch oven of some sort. Le Crueset makes expensive ones, Martha Stewart makes ones half that price, you can get cast iron ones at some hardware stores, etc. I have used a Le Crueset, but I have to say, this sad little Ikea cheapy works great and I like to use it because it makes a nice small round loaf that is deeper, which makes for nicer size slices. So what I'm saying is, as long as you have a round 4-5 quart pot with a lid, you can follow this method. The covered pot is absolutely essential because it traps the water as it evaporates from the dough during the baking process, mimicking the steam in bakery ovens and creating the crisp outer crust.

5. Bake your bread: So, once your oven is fully preheated and your bread has risen for 2 hours, remove the pot from the oven and dump your bread unceremoniously from the towel upside down into the pot. Shake the pot a bit to let the bread settle in the bottom. Now, put on the lid and put your bread in the oven covered for 30 minutes.

6. The final browning: Now, remove the lid from your pot of bread and leave it in the oven for another 15 minutes. Total baking time is 45 minutes.

7. Cooling: Remove your bread and lift it from the pot and onto a cooling rack. Let it cool AT LEAST 30 minutes but preferably an hour. The bread is still completing its baking process during the cooling, so don't disturb it too soon.

The bread is best eaten in the first 24 hours and should be stored in a paper bag or wrapped in parchment paper. Never put it in a plastic bag, as the crust will lose its crunch and the bread will turn chewy in a way you don't want.

A word about timing: I often want the bread to be ready at a particular time for a meal or a gift. This is how I figure out the timing. First, decide when you want it to be ready to eat, warm and fresh. Subtract 3.5 hours from that time and you have the time to begin the 2nd raise. Then, subtract at least 15 hours from that time and you have the time you need to make the dough. I figure this out well in advance and put it on my calendar (I put everything on my google calendar, it makes me feel safe).

When doing bread variations, you should add any mix-ins after the flour/water/yeast mixture is well mixed. Just toss in what you wish and mix again for 20-30 seconds to incorporate. If you are doing a liquid mix-in, such as truffle oil, put that in with the water and then pour it in. Definitely put all your components in the dough initially, prior to the 12-18 hour rise. The dough will grow flavorful during that time with whatever components you've added. I give suggested amounts, but you can play with it! Some bread variations, including my hands-down favorite:

Walnut Truffle (my hands down favorite): Add 1 teaspoon white truffle oil to the water and 3/4 cup chopped walnuts at the end. The resulting bread is lightly purply and so full of flavor you may just think its the best bread you've ever tasted.

Caramelized onion and Rosemary:
Caramelize a medium onion by slicing thinly and cooking over low heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. Add to the dough at the end including 1 tablespoon roughly chopped rosemary.

Hazelnut and Thyme: Add 3/4 cup chopped hazelnuts and 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme leaves to the dough.

White Chocolate chip and Dried cherry: Add 3/4 cup white chocolate chips and 1/2 cup chopped dried cherries to the dough. It is amazing what adding sweet flavors to a bread dough can do.

Kalamata olive: Decrease salt in dough to 1 teaspoon kosher salt, add 3/4 cup roughly chopped kalamata olives.

Buttermilk Stout:
Replace water with 2/3 cup stout and 2/3 cup buttermilk. Substitute 1/4 cup of the white flour with whole wheat flour.

I really implore you to try the no-knead method and make a loaf. There is a great sense of satisfaction that comes with creating something so spectacular with little effort. Comment here if you try it and if you have other ideas for unique mix-ins and flavor combination's.

Lastly, I must tell you that I am so excited to be leaving tomorrow for New York City. While I'm there, I'll be in the audience on Martha Stewart's annual blogging show, with my inspirational friend and baker, Ashley of the blog Not Without Salt. We'll be dining at some amazing places and of course I'll be visiting Sullivan Street Bakery. You can bet I'll have Jim's book in hand, hoping against hope for an autograph.


  1. oh this looks amazing jules! I cant wait to try the walnut truffle variation! thanks for putting this on the piglet :) have a fabulous trip!!

  2. Terrific post Julie! I'm sold. I'm buying the book and I'm baking bread.

  3. I just found your blog through Roost. I love this recipe. I'm going to try the walnut truffle variation this weekend, can't wait!

  4. Okay, LOOOOOOVE the bread! Now I'm more confident to try some add-ins... Wondering if you had a suggestion for another nut to pair with the truffle oil? I have a family member who is allergic to walnuts... Are pecans too sweet? abbeylockwood@gmail.com =) Thanks for the advice!


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