As I’ve briefly mentioned in earlier posts, one of the coolest things I learned this summer was that you don’t need to knead to make bread. In fact, no-knead bread is not only less work, but it also tastes better. (Ok, so I haven’t proven this scientifically, but I have had several people tell me it was the best homemade bread they’ve ever had. So don’t take my word for it, take the word of a few other people you’ve probably never met!) Let me get this point across to you: this bread is extremely easy to make. Apart from dropping it on the ground and stomping on it, setting it on fire, or, you know, adding dirt instead of flour, I’m fairly certain that you can’t screw this bread up. I’ve added too much water, put in too much yeast, let it rise too long, didn’t let it rise enough, and even added weird ingredients (hot sauce is excellent), and it’s still turned out just fine. Are you ready for the recipe?
What you need:
3.5 Cups Flour (Bread flour preferred, but not necessary.)
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Yeast (Active Dry, Instant, I’ve done it with both)
1 3/4 Cups Water (Approximate, see rule of thumb below)
Can you handle that? Call me an optimist, but I think you can. Alright, so what do you do? (Scroll down for basic directions w/out commentary)
First, mix the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl, large enough to allow the dough to at least double in size. For the pictures in this post, I used a mixture of half whole wheat flour and half bread flour. Next, add the water, stirring as you go. (I usually stir with my hands, but you can use a mixer or a spoon as well) My rule of thumb is to add only enough water to get all the flour mixed in; this makes it easier to handle, but as I said above, it’s not a big deal if you add too much, so long as it’s not drowning. Once you’ve mixed all this, cover the bowl in plastic wrap, and wait.
I usually like to mix the bread at night before I go to bed, so the dough has about ten hours to rise. The amount it rises is affected by the temperature of the room and the amount of yeast in the dough, so if you need it to rise quickly you can put it in a warmer room, or adjust the yeast, etc. The bread gets its good flavor from its long rise though, so don’t over-do it.
When you wake up in the morning (or after about 10 hours), the dough should have more than doubled and broken it’s form, so that it’s flat across the top and has a somewhat bubbly surface. Now, wet your hands, take out the dough, and stretch and fold it 2-4 times, like so:
Put it back in the bowl again and cover it, letting it rise until it approximately doubles again. This may take 1 to 2 hours, once again depending on the temperature of the room (And honestly I stop it after two hours regardless of whether or not it’s completely doubled). The next step is to flour down a towel (or parchment paper, or my mom’s nifty pastry mat, as dough does sometimes stick to the towel), and do the same stretching and folding pattern. Once this is complete, you’ll want to let it rise the final time in the shape that you want it to be, leaving it in the floured towel. Sometimes I’ll even place it in the object I’m going to bake it in, so long as I can keep it covered. An example of this would be the following picture:
At this point, it’s technically supposed to rise until it’s almost doubled again, but sometimes it can be hard to tell, so I usually just let it go for about the same amount of time as the second rise (about 1-2 hours) and start pre-heating the oven to 500 degrees when it’s getting close. When I pre-heat the oven, I also stick a pan of water on the bottom rack so that there will be steam in the oven when the bread is first put in. Apparently, you want a lot of steam when the bread first goes in, but you don’t want it to last the whole time. This will help the loaf rise more in the oven, but still result in a crispy crust.
When the oven has pre-heated fully, it’s time to put the bread in. It usually helps to grease or oil whatever you’re using to bake the bread, but this can also result in a somewhat soggy bottom crust, so parchment paper may be a good alternative. Anyway, once you’re ready to go, stick the bread in at 500 for about 30 minutes, or 25 if you’ve split it into to as shown above. It should bake until the top is golden brown and hollow-sounding when tapped. The same goes for the bottom, although this is somewhat more difficult to achieve. Let it cool for a bit, and voila, you have homemade bread!
The basic directions:
Mix flour, salt, and yeast together in a large bowl. Continue mixing as you add water, adding just enough water to get the dough to gel together. Cover and let rise at about 70 degrees for around 10 hours. When it’s more than doubled, take out dough, stretch and fold it 2-4 times. Cover it again, letting it rise until it doubles: about 1-2 hours. Remove, and do the stretching and folding again, this time putting it on a well-floured towel or parchment paper. Let it rise a final time in the shape that you will bake it to be, allowing it to sit covered for another 1-2 hours. When it’s almost doubled, bake it for 30 minutes at 500 degrees (in an oven that has been preheated with a pan of water for steam) or until the crust is hard and golden brown.