Makes 1 large loaf, 2+ pounds
Seeing is believing. I love showing clients that they can make amazing bread in just 5 minutes a day without special equipment, ingredients, or even skills. No matter how many YouTube videos you watch covering no-knead bread, the real convincing takes place in your own kitchen. This method is ideal for busy, working people.
This is my version of a recipe that appeared in the New York Times (11/8/06 and 12/6/06) for No-Knead Bread from Jim Lahey of Sullivan St. Bakery. It works because the protein/gluten strands that normally develop through kneading form instead by relaxing and uncurling in the wetter-than-normal dough and the long fermentation. The method is an extension of a professional baking technique, autolysis, that makes a very wet dough easier to handle. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the strength to knead dough by hand and the machine works great but makes an incredible racket.
The method does take 2 days but requires just 5 minutes working time on Day 1 and 10 minutes on Day 2, plus 1 hour proofing and 1 hour baking (for breads with whole grains; all-white breads proof about 2 hours). I’ve adapted the original recipe, increasing the amounts to make a larger loaf in order to fit the size pan (5 quart) I use for baking. If you do not eat that much bread, you may want to cut the loaf in half saving one for yourself and giving away or freezing the rest. I leaven my bread with sourdough. The original recipe calls for yeast. And I’ve changed the mixing regimen slightly. Use a scale; you will get more consistent results than with cup measurements. The recipe may seem long. That’s because I have inserted as many details as I can think of. In actuality, the recipe is amazingly simple. I’ve included notes and variations at the end.
The SECRET to this bread is baking it in a covered, heavy pan such as a Dutch oven. If you do nothing different with your bread baking other than to start using this baking technique, your bread will improve. That is, if you like crackling crusts. This is because the closed pot creates a steamy environment more easily and efficiently than other methods such as misting the oven or adding a pan of water. The moist environment means the crust forms more slowly; the bread can fully rise before the outside seizes in the oven heat. Professional bakery bread ovens have injected steam. You will need a good bread knife. When I first started baking bread with crusts, a new knife was the first new tool I bought.
The original recipe has a hydration of 80%, very high. The percentage is based on the ratio of the weight of the flour and water. Twenty ounces (4 cups) of flour + 16 ounces (2 cups) water. French bread is usually 72 to 75% hydration. An 80% hydration dough is very wet and can be a bit difficult to handle but makes the largest holes in the crumb. Think ciabatta and pugliese breads to get a sense of what to expect in your finished loaf.
I’ve been increasing the hydration of my 30% whole-grain breads to 80% from about 75% but the lower amount works fine as well and is often easier to handle. The best way to mix the dough is to weigh out the water, add most of it, and then add the rest—and even some extra—if you need it. You may have watched YouTube videos where the dough mixes easily with a wooden spoon. Somehow that has not been my experience, probably because I am mixing larger quantities including whole-grain flours and other add-ins. Instead I’ve developed a very simple method. Start mixing with a wooden spoon and when the going gets tough, switch to a rounded, plastic bowl scraper, and fold the dough over onto itself until it forms a mass.
- 567 g / 20 ounces unbleached, organic bread flour (see Notes for mixing flours) plus more for dusting
- 8.5 g / 0.3 oz or 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- About 425 g / 15 ounces water (see Notes for varying amounts when using whole-grain flour) plus more as needed
- 28 g/ 1 ounce sourdough starter (see Notes on leavening) or a generous 1/4 teaspoon dried, instant (rapid-rise) yeast
- Polenta, sesame seeds, or bran flakes
- Put a 3-quart mixing bowl on a scale. Add the flour and any flavorings and salt. Mix with a wooden spoon to evenly distribute the ingredients. Make a well in the center and add the water and yeast or sourdough. Mix together with a wooden spoon until it gets too heavy, and then switch to a rounded dough scraper. Dribble in more water, if needed, to make a sticky, ragged mass. Cover with plastic wrap (those travel shower caps are the best!), and set aside to ferment/rise. (This does not have to be in a warm place as is usual with yeast breads. In fact, if too warm, the dough may rise too fast and lack structure and flavor.)
- If you have time, during the first 2 hours or so, use the dough scraper to fold the dough over on itself about every half hour: scrape around the edge of the bowl, pulling the dough into the center. After a couple of repeats, the mass will come together into a smooth, wet dough. The folding also helps distribute the yeast more quickly. Sourdough, in particular, responds well to this bit of extra attention. (This step is not necessary and was not part of the original recipe. But if I did not fold the dough, when fully fermented after 18 hours, there were clumps of unmixed flour on the surface of my dough. This extra step prevents that. And, if you are going out, do at least one turn 15 minutes after the initial mixing. And if you can squeeze it in, another 15 minutes after the first.)
- When the dough is very bubbly and at about the top of the bowl (18 to 24 hours), scrape it down with the dough scraper. Dust a counter fairly heavily with flour (more heavily if the dough seems scarily wet and more lightly if dough seems okay. Dust the top with more flour (observing same principle as before). Fold the dough over onto itself—pick up one side and fold it to the middle, then the opposite side, then the top, and then the bottom. Press down lightly, adding more flour as needed, and repeat the folding. Flip the dough over and shape it very gently, cupping it between the palms and rotating it, into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap (or the shower cap) and let it rest 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, get out a medium-sized cutting board or the bottom of a cookie sheet and lay a clean tea towel on it. Dust the towel lightly with flour and then generously with polenta. (This prevents the dough from sticking to the towel during its final rise/proofing. Polenta is my favorite because it adds its own crunch to the crust. But you can use bran flakes or sesame seeds or probably a lot of other things I haven’t thought of.)
- Gently reshape the rested dough into a ball and place it, seam-side-down, on the tea towel. Dust it lightly with flour and then with polenta. Cover with another tea towel and place the board and dough in a large plastic bag to proof. Set aside 2 hours, if using white flour.
- Doughs with whole grains and raised with sourdough seem to overproof easily. Proof them only 1 hour.
- While the dough proofs, place your 5-quart baking casserole and lid in the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. (I keep 2 baking stones and a 14-inch cast-iron skillet in my to increase mass. When all that gets hot, if I open the oven door, the temperature barely budges.) Make sure the oven is really hot. If you don’t have convection, it could take 60 minutes.
- When ready to bake, take the dough out of the plastic bag; set it somewhere where it will be easy to transfer the dough into the baking container. For me, that means I put the board on the counter next to the sink and put the hot pot in the sink.
- Using thick hot pads, remove the preheated baking dish from the oven and remove the lid. Remove the top tea towel and flip the dough into the pot. The dough will now be seam-side up. (This is important—the loaf will open along the seam as it rises. If the dough sits seam-side-down in the pot, you will have to dock it so that it can rise properly.) Grasp the pot with your hot pads and give it a good shake to make sure the bread rolls easily in the pot and is not sticking. Recover the pot and return it to the oven. Lower the heat to 475 degrees F for all-white flour breads and to 425 degrees F for bread with whole grains and whole wheat flours.
- Bake 30 minutes, and then remove the lid. Bake all-white breads another 15 to 20 minutes or until very dark gold on top. Bake whole wheat breads longer, about 30 minutes. Immediately turn the loaf out onto a rack to cool.
Variation for Personal-Sized Loaf
A client wanted to make a small loaf just for himself. Here are the proportions for a small, 1+ pound loaf.
- 85 g/3 ounces whole-wheat flour
- 198 g/7 ounces bread flour
- 14 g/2 tablespoons oat bran
- 3 g/1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 15 g1/2 ounce sourdough starter or 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast
- About 227 g/8 ounces water
Mix and let rise in a 1 1/2 or 2-quart bowl and bake in a 3-quart, covered pot.
- Dried yeast: You can use any dried yeast here—instant or regular. Whatever dried yeast you use, you do not need to soak it (proof it) ahead of time. Unless your yeast has been hiding in the dark recesses of your pantry for years. At least I don’t proof the yeast which saves time and trouble and have never had a problem.
- Sourdough: I have a sourdough starter I keep in the fridge and refresh every couple of weeks. Its proportions are equal weights of flour and water.
- As long as you remain at 20 ounces of flour total, you can mix in other flours. I’ve found I don’t like to exceed about 8 ounces of wholegrain or whole-wheat flour. I particularly love graham flour because of its coarse texture. To get a levain-like mix, I use 1 1/2 ounces rye flour, and 5 or 6 ounces whole-wheat flour with the rest unbleached, organic white bread flour.
- Tap water is fine and it can be straight-from-the-faucet temperature. Save the water from cooking potatoes, cool, and use it. Yeast loves potato water and it adds a wonderful flavor to bread. I also use whey left over after making ricotta. I’ve also used some pumpkin water, sour milk, and buttermilk.
- If you use all white flour and add the full 16 ounces of water and expect an almost pourable dough. You can also add 14.5 ounces water, dribbling in more as you mix. The less wet dough will be easier to handle and still be great. Experiment and keep notes and do what works best for you.
- If you use the suggested amounts of wholegrain or whole-wheat flour, you might want to increase the amount of water slightly. I start with about 15 ounces, adding more as needed.
- Ambient temperature will also affect your dough. When the kitchen is hot, the dough will be looser and stickier than it would be when the room is colder.
- I use kosher salt.
- You can use all sorts of things—chopped olives, all sorts of nuts and seeds including sesame, fennel, flax [whole (if so, should be soaked first) or ground], oat bran, wheat bran, potatoes, potato flour, spouted grains, cooked rice and barley, etc, etc. Doughs loaded with added solids such as nuts will be denser; to keep them lighter, increase the yeast or sourdough to add extra lifting power.
Length of fermentation:
- This depends on how fresh your sourdough is, if using, and how cold/warm the dough is as it rises. You can count on about 18 hours but, with sourdough, it might take 24 or more. Some of mine go for 1 1/2 days and even then I have to put them on the stove top to warm the dough and hurry it along. But I have a very, sometimes very, very cold house and sometimes the starter is several weeks old and weak. With a newly refreshed starter, the dough can be very active.
- If you want to know how your dough is doing, good clues are how bubbly it is. When done, it should be very bubbly on top. Another clue is to hold the bowl on its side and watch as the dough begins to fall away from the side. If it has long stretchy strands, the gluten has formed.
- Mixing bowl. Use the same one each time for mixing/rising and then you will be able to tell at a glance when the dough is done. For example, I use a 3-qt bowl and the dough is done when it reaches the rim of the bowl.
- Rounded dough scraper. This is my “must-have” tool. I finish mixing the dough with it; fold the dough with it early in the dough rising time; scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the counter with it; and use it to lift the dough if it begins sticking to the counter.
- Heavy, lidded pot/Dutch oven. I’ve used my Le Crueset even though the knobs on the lids are not supposed to go in a 500 degree F oven. Cover the knob with foil if that’s the pot you use. I’ve used my standard 5-quart Calphalon aluminum Dutch oven and that, too, worked great. But I wanted something with a little smaller diameter to encourage the dough to move up more than out. So I bought an uncoated Lodge cast-iron Dutch oven (10 1/4-inch diameter) which I just love for baking. Whatever pot you use, it should be heavy in order to maintain heat.
- Oven: It’s important that the oven be hot. To help it retain heat, you can add mass. For instance, keep pizza stones it in at all times and/or store your largest cast-iron skillet in it. I was told to even get a pound or more of nails and to put them in the skillet! The great thing about using a preheated cast-iron or other heavy pot, is that it will retain its heat while you transfer the dough into it. But you do want to work quickly to retain as much heat as possible.
- The bread keeps, unrefrigerated, for about a week unless it is hot because the long fermentation creates a sourdough effect even when you use yeast. Once the loaf is cut, I store mine in a plastic bag. (I know, I know; plastic spoils the crust. For the first day, I might just stand the loaf on its cut edge.)
- To cut such a large loaf, first cut it in half, then set the half on its cut side and, starting in the middle, cut slices out to each end. (I remember being shown this method years ago in Paris when I first needed to cut a large loaf of Poilaine’s bread.)
Here are some of the variations I’ve developed over the last few years. But this is only a beginning. Don’t forget to add leftover oatmeal, mashed potatoes, cooked brown rice, quinoa, sprouted wheat berries, etc, etc, etc.
- Jim Lahey’s original weights: 430 g bread flour, 345 g water, 1 g yeast, 8 grams salt.
- Fennel: Add about 0.4 oz whole fennel seed to flour. I like this particularly when mixing white and whole-wheat flours. This bread is terrific toasted with butter and honey.
- Meyer Lemon-Rosemary: Add 0.7 oz wheat germ to flour (optional) plus the freshly grated zest of 2 large Meyer lemons (23g/.8 oz) and about 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary (3g/.1oz). I’ve been changing the proportions of zest and rosemary and these are my most recent amounts. Use them as a starting point and then change to your taste. When prepping the dough for its final rise (called proofing), dust the tea towel as usual with flour and polenta and then with coarse-grained salt such as gray salt or fleur de sel. When you flip the bread to bake it, the salt will be on top.
- Multigrain: In a small bowl, soak 3.5 ounces 12-grain cereal [490calories] (I buy this in bulk at Rainbow and mix in flax seed.) in 3 oz water. Use hot water and let soak about an hour or start ahead and soak in cold water several hours or overnight. Use a flour mix of 3 oz rye [300c], 3.5 oz whole wheat [350c], and 13.5 oz bread flour [1485c], .3 salt, 1 ounces starter [55c]. Add the soaked grains to the flour. Add 13-14 ounces water and begin to mix. Since the grains are wet, you should take that liquid into account, starting with the lower amount and adding more as needed. That being said, I often end up using 14.5 ounces or even a little more. Total calories in loaf, 2680=@71c/ounce if loaf weighs @ 38 ounces.
- Sesame: For a toasted sesame flavor, toast 1 ounce sesame seeds first in a dry pan over medium heat (optional) or use tahini. Add 0.7 oz wheat germ as well. Then when prepping the dough for its final rise (called proofing), dust the tea towel with flour and then generously with sesame seeds. Dust the top with flour and then again with sesame seeds.
- Sesame-Semolina: 3 ounces coarse semolina, 1 ounce sesame seeds, 1 ounce nonfat milk powder, 1 ounce olive oil, .3 salt, 1 ounce starter, 0.7 ounce wheat germ, 20 ounces white, @16 ounces water. Coat in sesame seeds.
- Seeded: 1 oz sesame seeds, 0.5 oz pepitas, 0.5 oz sunflower seeds, 1 ounce oat bran, .7 ounce flax meal, 0.3 salt, 1 oz sourdough starter, 6.5 ounces whole-wheat, 13.5 oz white bread flour, about 16 oz water.
- Walnut/Nut: 1 1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts, 3/4 cup nut flour, 4 oz whole wheat, 16 oz white, 1 oz starter, 1/4 tsp dried yeast, .3 salt, about 16 oz water.
- Wheat Berry: 4 oz sprouted wheat berries (114c), 6-7 oz whole-wheat flour (700c), 13-14 oz (total comes to 20 oz) bread flour (1430c), 1 oz sourdough starter (55c), .3 salt, @ 16 oz water. 38.2 oz loaf=2299c or 61c/oz.
- Wheat Blend: 7 oz whole-wheat flour (700), 13 oz bread (1430), .3 salt, 1 oz starter (55), 15 to 16 oz water. If loaf 35 oz=62/oz.
- Oatmeal: .3 salt, 90g old-fashioned oats (340c), 23 g nonfat milk powder(80), 5g barley malt (50), 1.5 oz starter (75), 15 to 16 oz water, 5 oz white whole wheat (500), 15 oz bread 1650). Proof about 2 hours. Total cal=2695; 36 oz loaf=75c/oz (if 38oz=71c/oz)
- Almond (2.3.09): .3 salt, 90 g almond meal (540 c); .2/6g barley malt (60c?), 5 oz whole wheat (500c); 15 oz bread flour (1650c), 1 oz starter (55c), @14.5 oz water. Fermented 23 hours, proofed 1+ and could have used more time. Loaf came out high, round, and tight. Good flavor. 36 oz loaf=2800 calories or 78c/oz.