In November 2006, New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman wrote an article for his Sunday feature — it was just an interview with a baker who came up with a new method to bake bread, no big deal. Except that this baker claimed that he had not only developed a manner to make absolutely amazing bread at home without the headaches of kneading and working the dough, but that his process was so easy that a four year old could do it.
Wait. Why would a commercial baker develop a way to make his product at home? This seemed a little self defeating. But this baker — his name was Jim Lahey — stated that his goal was for anyone to be able to create bakery quality bread — you know, that bread with the hard crust and the rich center, not the squishy store bought stuff — as often as they wanted.
So Bittman met with Lahey and the two baked this new bread together. Mark Bitman wrote the piece and that article launched an entire bread making movement. There were video’s, additional articles, online pieces, cookbooks, all about this new method of baking bread easily.
Now this was very well received because baking bread had always been a daunting and intimidating task and was only taken on by the serious home baker. It was time consuming, required a lot of attention and was easy to mess up — which is why homemade bread has always been so revered.
The traditional process of baking bread requires dissolving yeast and sugar in water. Then adding in lard, salt and flour and then working. Then the kneading starts. Then the bread has to rise for an hour. Then you punch the dough and allow it to deflate and allow to sit for another hour. Then you bake.
Then, in the 1990’s bread machines came along and these things were great. Now there was a machine where you could load all the ingredients into the bread pan of the machine and allow the device to do all the kneading, punching, waiting and cooking. You just loaded it up, pressed a few buttons and walked away. But, the bread was still the soft squishy store bought kind — a much fresher, preservative-free version of it, but still not that artisan, bakery style bread that we all love.
Then came Jim Lahey’s method. Where we can not only make the most amazing artisan bread ever but it is so incredibly easy that — yes, a four year old can do it.
It’s cheap — an average loaf will cost you about thirty cents to make — incredibly crispy, tasty and is so easy to do.
What Jim came up with was a way to allow time to do all the work — up to 24 hours. It takes a minute to mix the bread, uses only a quarter teaspoon of yeast (most recipes call for a full teaspoon or more) and allows the yeast to ferment very slowly. The dough is so sticky that you couldn’t knead it even if you wanted to, which is good because you just leave it alone and let it do its thing.
His method creates a great cracking crust and flavor and is the kind of bread that you get from professionals steam-injected ovens. And it does this by allowing the pot you cook it in to act as a steam oven and get the same results. Over the past year I’ve made dozens of loafs of this bread and have not messed up a single one yet — and for me that’s something, so I am officially calling this method foolproof.
HOW TO MAKE NO KNEAD BREAD
1 ¾ cup of warm water
3 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of salt
¼ teaspoon of yeast
1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Mix the dry ingredients then add your water.
2. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit. Jim’s recipe calls for between 18 to 24 hours but I would say 8 hours is a minimum. I make a batch up at night and we have it for breakfast the next day. I also use a Sharpee and write on the plastic wrap the time that I started it, so I know. If you like a larger loaf and less dense, wait longer towards the 24 hour timeframe.
3. Place flour over a cutting board and place the dough on it. Fold it into a ball — don’t knead it or work it, just fold it — place back in the bowl and cover back with plastic wrap for thirty minutes.
HINT: What I do here is, while the dough is on the cutting board, I wash out the bowl, dry it and place a layer of olive oil on the bottom. Then when the dough goes back in the bowl I’ll add a little olive oil on the top. This will add flavor and allow the bread to easily slip into the pan when you cook it.
4. Preheat oven to 400.
5. Place a Dutch oven, casserole dish or anything that has a heavy cover and seals, into the oven to preheat — empty — for ten minutes. You want the dutch oven to be hot when you start
6. Place the bread in the Dutch oven. I used to cut vent holes on the top but found that they don’t do much and the look is nicer without them.
7. Remove lid and cook for an additional 5 minutes or so to get the top get crusty.
It’s tempting to cut it right out of the oven but you get a better result if you let it cool for ten minutes or so.