Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Yes, You Can Bake Bread

So you think you can't bake bread. If you want to bake homemade bread, but have always been afraid of the unknowns—proofing yeast and rising dough and punching down and kneading—let me urge you to try again. This recipe for no-knead artisan bread isn't a new one. This no-knead method has been around for quite some time. It made a big splash in all the food media outlets for a while. A book, Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day, was touted as a "must have" for bread bakers about ten years ago.

Well, I have the book. And I read and read and read. But I never baked from it because the instructions and information were a lot to absorb. Now, it IS a good book. But I think there is an easier way to get started. You can see my first go at this no-knead method here. I had found a wonderful website that explained this process in a more user friendly way than the book. I still recommend that you take a look at all of her information. There are a zillion questions and answers in the comment section that you will find helpful.

I had pretty good luck using her method after I found out then that I couldn't use my standby flour, White Lily. It's the protein content that's different. I switched to King Arthur All-Purpose flour and things immediately improved. I still use White Lily for other baking—but not for yeast breads.

And this week, that same basic recipe—the same basic one that was in the book, the same basic one that is explained on the Simply So Good website—popped up again on Instagram. Posting as @enlightenedhomemaker, she often has photos of simple, healthy recipes. When I saw her bread photo, I recognized it as the same no-knead bread that I'd made a few years ago. But I took an extra minute to follow the link back to her blog. And lo and behold, I felt like I'd struck gold!

The ingredient list is the about same as the original Jim Lahey recipe and the Simply So Good verstion. It's only four or five ingredients. But her instructions have enough differences that I wanted to try it again. No more trying to plop soft dough into a blistering hot pan without touching the sides. (Can you say "ouch!"?) The rising time has a range of 4 to 24 hours. Total flexibility.  So I stirred it up yesterday.

The whole premise of those first versions is putting the dough into an extremely hot covered Dutch oven, so that the hot covered pot creates a "steam oven" for baking your bread. The method I'm passing along today starts with a cold pan. I really had my doubts. But it worked.

Try this recipe from The Enlightened Homemaker and see what happens. Or, go back and read about the previous methods. "Kosher salt" vs "sea salt." "Cool water" vs "hot water." "Preheated pan" vs "cold pan." "450 degrees" vs "425 degrees." "Let it rest" vs "no resting needed." They all seem to work. The worst case scenario is that you waste three cups of flour and a tiny bit of yeast and you'll have to wash a bowl.

This is a heavier, more dense loaf that my usual sourdough. It is what you call "rustic." That means it has holes in the inside of the bread and the crust is chewy. A hearty loaf. With the herbs added this tastes like something I've had in upscale restaurants. (Next time I'll add less of the herbs de Provence. A tablespoon was a tad much for my taste.) But it's hard to beat a simple white bread.

3 cups all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur)
1/2 teaspoon yeast (I used Fleishmann's BreadMachine Instant yeast from a jar)
1-1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon herbs or seasoning, optional (I used Herbs de Provence) 
1-1/2 cups hot water (I used hot tap water)

Put flour into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle yeast, salt and herbs over flour and stir to blend. Stir in water until it's all moist. Cover, and let sit for 4-24 hours.

Dump dough (which is very sticky) onto a well-floured counter or mat. Form into a round or oblong loaf. Just tuck the sides in turn over.

Place dough in a Dutch oven that has a piece of parchment paper on the bottom. (Cut paper to fit.)

Bake, covered, at 425 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove lid and bake for another 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Carefully remove from hot pan and let cool for 10 minute or so before slicing. (The crust is nearly rock hard straight out of the oven, but it will soften and be easier to slice as it cools.)

As I typed this recipe, I realized that last night I baked my bread at 450 degrees—the directions from Simply So Good. I'll do this again soon at 425 degrees to see if there is much difference. But I'm beginning to think this recipe is hard to mess up. I let mine sit yesterday for about 8 hours before baking. I want to try again and let it go for more like 18 hours and see if it rises higher. The huge range of resting times give you great flexibility to fit it into your schedule.

Don't have an oven-safe Dutch oven? I've used a large Calphalon pot with a lid that worked fine. Others have used clay pots, the insert from a slow cooker, or other large pot (at least 4-6 quarts) with a lid that can safely go into a very hot oven.

You can read about a multitude of variations on Simply So Good and Enlightened Homemaker. People have added in everything from nuts to cheese to herbs. They have tried it with whole wheat flour and made it with a blend of spelt and kamut (I don't even know what that is.) Make it your own.

There is something very "real" about homemade bread. In a world of manufactured, prepacked foods, people are seeking whole foods, where you know exactly what is in the food you eat. This recipe is a good one to add to your repertoire. People will think you have crazy mad skills! If you try it, let me know how it goes.


  1. This looks like my kind of bread. I like dense, hard crusted bread and this fits the bill.

  2. I love reading this kind off bread post. It reminds me of my grandmother's bread. Might even be good wrist therapy when my cast comes off.

    1. It's by far the easiest bread I've ever made. And if you like a hearty loaf, it's one of the best, too.


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