A couple years ago, The New York Times published an article on a revolutionary way to make bread, and the rave reviews began rolling in for bakery owner Jim Lahey’s innovative method. I distinctly remember (and a quick search on the internet will confirm this) the word “foolproof” being one of the words many used to describe this method, but as we all know, there’s always a fool ready to prove that there’s no such thing as “foolproof”! This time, that fool was me. My first no-knead loaf came out flat, with a rock hard crust and dense, doughy insides (which in the bread world is referred to as “crumb”). No, I have no photos of that inedible monstrosity – and after a few attempts to salvage any edible bits, I gave up and tossed it out. No matter – it’s the failures that remind you of how gratifying it is to succeed at something!
I was not about to give up on the idea entirely, even though I happen to find kneading dough enjoyable and therapeutic. I usually like to roll up my sleeves and get involved, and having such a hands-off approach to bread is counter-intuitive to me. So last Friday, I mixed up a new batch of Lahey’s no-knead recipe to see if I could do better this time. The method involves a long initial rise time of 12-18 hours, and as I couldn’t get my hands into the dough, I obsessively checked on its progress instead. Through the tight drum of the cling wrap, I could see the dough bubbling, in many cases forming delightfully large air pockets, and on Saturday morning, after a quick shaping and a second rise of a few hours, it was ready to be baked. This time around, I had a perfect heat-conducting vessel for the task, a Staub Le Cocotte that remains one of my favourite gifts ever (and from a Secret Santa, no less!), and I timed the baking precisely in eager anticipation of the result. This time, thankfully, it did not disappoint.
The loaf came out looking wonderfully rustic, with a lofty rise, a crisp crust and an open crumb full of airy holes. Perhaps best of all, the inside possessed that springy texture that makes tearing into a slice of good bread so very satisfying. You’ll notice from the photos that a large air bubble which formed in the crust was scorched by the heat of the oven (which had been heated to 500F per the video, whereas the recipe calls for a temperature of 450F). I baked a second loaf at 450F, which solved the issue of scorching, and will try the next at 475F.
Jim Lahey’s no-knead recipe can be found here. I did deviate slightly from his recipe (haven’t I mentioned I can’t resist tweaking things in most cases?) by adding 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, and by not turning the dough seam-up into the pot (this likely acts as a replacement for scoring the top of the dough – the fewer steps, the less intimidating for novice bakers). With only four ingredients and not much active working time, it’s definitely worth a try for anyone who would like to bake their own bread!