If you try one recipe this year, make it this. Seriously. Although the hoopla has died down since no-knead bread first made its appearance in the New York Times a few years ago, this is a life-changing recipe. You -yes, you- can become that mom who bakes her own bread, without kneading, messing up the countertop or spending hours in waiting – for the dough to rise, and rise again. I’ve never minded the kneading process, but I rarely made yeast bread from scratch because of the mess it made, and I rarely was on the ball enough to start a couple hours before I wanted fresh bread to come out of the oven. Besides, my own was never quite as phenomenal as bakery bread – this is. It’s not only the uniquely wet dough/batter that combined with time allows gluten molecules to come into alignment the same way kneading does (how do people figure this out, anyway?) but the baking method – you bake it a heavy pot, preheated and lidded, which traps the steam, creating an unbelievably crackly crust.
There’s no better time for freshly baked bread than the bleak midwinter, when it’s cold outside, warm inside and the smell of baking bread does more for a home than just produce a loaf. There’s nothing better than coming home to the aroma, snacking on a slab of warm, fresh bread with jam after school, or using it for toast with tea in the morning.
A few tips: One version of this recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups water, another calls for 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons. Don’t sweat the waiting time – it can be between 12 and 24 hours, whenever you find it convenient to bake your loaf. I usually go for the longer time – it doesn’t seem to turn into sourdough. When you turn the dough out onto a floured towel, it will be sticky, so don’t use a tea towel with a nap, like terrycloth – plain cotton tea towels work best. The resting time here is equally lax – sometimes I leave it for half an hour, other times I forget it for more than two.
Adapted from Jim Lahey at the Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan.
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more for dusting (I often use half whole wheat and half all-purpose, sometimes with a shake of ground flaxseed added)
1/4 tsp. instant or regular active dry yeast
1 tsp. salt
In a large bowl stir together the flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a plate and let it rest on the countertop for 18-24 hours at room temperature.
The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice, then roughly shape into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour. Fold it over the bread or cover with another cotton towel and let it sit for another hour or two.
While the bread is resting, preheat the oven to 450°. Put a 6-8 quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When the dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and flip the dough over into the pot; it may look like a mess, but that’s OK. Cover and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake another 10-15 minutes, until it’s nice and golden. Eat up!