Everyone who’s interested in artisan breads has probably heard of – and tried – Jim Lahey‘s legendary No Knead Bread. It’s a study in minimalism using just the basic ingredients – flour, water, yeast and salt – and five minutes of “work”. The result is a truly outstanding loaf with a crisp, crackly crust and a tender “custard” crumb.
That the classic “no-knead version” (Method I). Then there’s the modified version (Method II) that I’ve started using for all my breads. I’ll try to explain the difference as best as I can.
If you are making ONE or TWO loaves of bread with white flour, this is the recipe you want to try. (Here’s our version.) It’s the most delicious white bread you can make . Period.
Take some flour, salt and yeast (VERY LITTLE YEAST – about 1/4 tsp), dump water, stir it around, cover it and forget about it. Twelve (or maybe 20) hours later, put the gooey mess on a board. You can pretend to “shape” it, but it’s a losing proposition ‘cos it’s so sticky. Leave it alone for another two hours, then dump it in a HOT cast iron post in a blazing hot oven, COVER the pot and let the steam perform the magic.
Kneading aids quick gluten formation. No-knead bread with a very moist dough lets time and water do the work. The idea behind the prolonged fermenation is to slow down both yeast activity and enzyme activity to bring out the sourdough-like complex flavours.
“The long, slow rise does over hours what intensive kneading does in minutes: it brings the gluten molecules into side-by-side alignment to maximize their opportunity to bind to each other and produce a strong, elastic network. The wetness of the dough is an important piece of this because the gluten molecules are more mobile in a high proportion of water, and so can move into alignment easier and faster than if the dough were stiff.” (NY Times)
- Lahey’s formula works best with all purpose flour, water, yeast and salt. That’s all you need. You can try whole grain loaves with this method, but they turn out very dense, ‘cos he doesn’t add vital gluten. You can try substituting a little of the white flour with whole wheat or oats, say 1/3 or less of the total – like this – but the flour should be predominantly white.
- The dough rises at room temperature.
- It uses very little yeast: a quarter teaspoon for a 1.5 pound loaf. You can replace the yeast with 1/4 cup sourdough starter.
- The dough is baked the next day.
- You need a HOT cast iron pan with a lid. The inside ceramic container of a crock pot or any ceramic bowl with a lid works too, but cast iron gives the most crackly crust.
Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François modify this approach slightly in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and in Healthy Breads in Five Minutes a Day, which features whole grain and gluten-free breads using the same method.
I once got an e-mail from a reader asking me how to bake smaller portions of breads for a single person or for a family of two. Method II is your answer. Make a batch of dough, dump it in the refrigerator and use as much or little as you want over the next two weeks.
Bonus: You can make pretty much any loaf of bread this way (see Artisan Boule), including 100% whole grain ones. You don’t even have to follow the recipes in their book – just use any recipe and adapt it to the no-knead method. They have some fantastic recipes, so there’s no reason not to follow them. I just like to adapt and tweak based on what I have on hand and what my mood is at that moment.
You can make a double, triple or quadruple batch of dough and take as much as you want from the fridge each time you want a fresh loaf over the next few days. You can make a loaf on Monday, a pizza on Wednesday and rolls on Thursday – all with the same batch of dough.
Again, no kneading and very sticky dough, but it differs from the previous method in a few ways:
- They use vital wheat gluten to add protein and give spring to their whole grain loaves. In their gluten-free loaves, they add some high-protein flour like soy flour.
- The dough goes into the refrigerator after a two-hour rise. You can bake it right away, but for best results, keep it in the fridge, preferably overnight, and bake it any time over the next 14 days. Take it out, shape it and put in a bowl/pan for rising or make a free-form loaf. Let it rise covered for 1.5 to 2 hours.
- Like Method I, the DOUGH IS WET and slack. It should feel sticky, but should be able to come together into a shaggy mass. If I want to make a free-form loaf and find that the dough is too sticky, I simply dump it in a greased loaf pan and smooth the top. Use more flour if you want for dusting, but the idea is MINIMAL HANDLING and NO KNEADING. Too much handling and kneading makes the crumb dense.
- You bake it in a pre-heated oven in a room temperature loaf pan or as a free-form loaf. No pre-heated cast iron pans are involved, which means no burnt fingers. Plus, the pan does not need to be covered during baking. (You can use a covered cast iron pan, though, and the bread will be fabulous.) The steam in this comes from some water/ice cubes in a dish placed on another rack. I simply preheat a little metal cup when the oven in pre-heating and throw in a couple of ice cubes in it when I put in the bread.
- They use a lot of yeast. (e.g. 1.5 tablespoons for two loaves) You can gradually decrease the amount of yeast to half the amount or even less. See what works for you. Here’s a wonderful, slightly modified whole wheat version that uses just 1/3 tsp yeast.
- Use a bit of the dough (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup) from that batch for the next batch as a type of sourdough starter to enhance the flavour.
Put the dry ingredients in a lidded plastic or ceramic bowl (the one which you will place in the fridge), mix with a whisk or fork. Dump in the liquid. Always start with 2 tbsps less liquid than specified in the recipe and make sure it’s warm – between 95 and 110F. (Heat half of it until hot in the microwave and then bring it to warm with the remaining room temp liquid).
Then mix with a wooden spoon just until the flour is incorporated. Add more water if you need to. Close and leave outside for two hours. If you use room temp liquid, you may need 3 hours. You can use it up right away, but I’d suggest using it beginning the next day over the next ten days or so.
Crack open the lid of the container ever so slightly and put it in the fridge. After a day or so, close the lid light after the gases escape. Take the dough out, shape it with minimal handling and dusting of flour and put it in the pan you’d be using to bake. If it’s too sticky, just dump it in a greased loaf pan and smooth the top. Or make a free-form loaf on parchment or a silicone sheet.
Cover with a floured tea towel or plastic wrap and let it rise for between 1.5 to 2 hours – until nearly double. Preheat oven with a rack in the middle and another to hold the pan of water for steam. Put the empty metal pan in the oven when it’s preheating. If you use a countertop convection oven and are going to have just one rack, put a metal cup in a corner to preheat with the oven. If you’re making a free-form loaf or pizza, put a baking stone in the middle rack while preheating.
If the recipe says 400F, I like the oven to preheat at 450F and bring it down to 400F when I put the dough in. Slash the loaf to let the steam escape and place it in the oven with a pan. Or put the parchment with the free-form loaf on the baking stone. Add a couple of icecubes to the hot empty pan/metal cup to generate steam.
Bake as specified. Test in the center of the loaf with a skewer to see if it’s done. If you put an oven thermometer in the center of the loaf, it should be between 200F and 205F. Remove the loaf from the oven.
If it’s in a pan, after five minutes, invert it, shake it loose and put it on a wire rack to cool. Cool the loaf for at least 30 minutes, preferably an hour before slicing.
100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Loaf
Like our Whole Wheat Naans, we use a bit of potato and a bit of “milk” (it can be milk, buttermilk, soymilk, rice milk, coconut milk, almond milk, any liquid with a bit of fat in it) to make the crumb really tender and delicious.
This dough also makes fabulous pizza crust and rolls. Make a double batch. Try replacing a cup of the whole wheat flour with whole spelt flour. It adds excellent flavour.
Makes a 2-pound loaf.
3.75 cups whole wheat flour
**or 2.75 cups whole wheat flour and 1 cup whole spelt flour
1/4 cup wheat germ or flax powder (optional)
2 tbsps vital wheat gluten
**if you don’t have it, leave it out
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
half cup mashed potato (see note below)
half cup potato water (see note below)
3/4 cup lukewarm “milk” (dairy, buttermilk, soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, rice milk, light coconut milk)
**or 1/4 cup organic non-instant milk powder or coconut milk powder mixed with water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1.5 teaspoons salt
1.5 tablespoons maple syrup or raw honey
1/4 cup sourdough starter or leftover dough from the previous batch (optional)
water if needed
flour to dust
**Take a potato, cube it (with skin if organic, without skin if not organic) and put it in a microwave safe bowl with half cup water and cook it covered on high for 3 minutes or until you can easily mash it with a fork. WAIT UNTIL THE POTATO and POTATO WATER COOL to LUKEWARM or ROOM TEMPERATURE. Or just dump the room temp “milk” on it and stir it around.
Add more water while mixing if needed. We want a sticky dough, but something that kinda holds its shape. Oil your hands and use flour for dusting if you need to.
Slash the top of the loaf before baking. Preheat oven to 425F.
Put the loaf in a pan, reduce the heat to 375F and bake for 10 minutes. Then put a foil tent on it with the shiny side out (the milk may make it brown too fast) and bake another 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven. Invert it out of the pan after a couple of minutes and cool for at least 30 minutes (an hour is preferable) on a wire rack before slicing.
Our entry for YeastSpotting @ Wild Yeast.
and for Bake Your Own Bread.
- bee (and jai)