As I have mentioned before, there where a couple moments in my life that triggered my awareness to a brighter, better, and tastier world. One of the first things I realized in my newly awakened state is that the bread that I ate every day growing up was
awful bad …not bread. It’s not that sliced and bagged grocery store bread is unpleasant in its own right, it is that it has become its own creature that is far removed from the thing that inspired it. If you were to go into a bakery, I am fairly certain that the last thing on your mind would be to find blandest, lightest, pillowiest loaf that, without much effort, you will be able to squeeze and roll into a dense little bland bouncy ball. I guess I am not entirely sure what people had to go through prior to the advent of sliced bread, but I struggle to see how it has become the high water mark in time that great things are measured against.
At some point bread became industrialized, and once that happened people stopped using their ovens and stopped using their local baker. (An interesting look back at it all can be found in this article from The Chronicle). Bread became cheaper and more shelf stable and up until the 1960’s became the cornerstone of everyone’s diet accounting for up to 30% of everyone’s caloric intake. What I imagined to be hours of weekly labor suddenly became just an item on a shopping list. Since then, no one food source accounts for the majority of caloric intake in our diets, but everyone has forgotten how to make a decent loaf of bread and unless you are graced with a neighborhood bakery or upscale grocery store, you are stuck with a choice of white or wheat and if you are lucky, rye. I say it is high time to take back home made bread!
Well, I actually said it several years ago. And not to any sort of audience. There was no exclamation point and truth be told, I said it to myself quietly inside my head. I was fed up with my local bread options. The one decent grocery store bakery was shaping its white bread recipe into various bread-like shapes and taking them out of the oven just before their crusts started to brown. Baguettes, Italian loaves and round loaves on the outside, but Wonder bread through and through. I knew I could do a better job myself. All I needed to do was some research and practice. But before I was practical, I was a dreamer. I imagined myself getting into the weekly routine of handling dough and shaping it into classic crusty loaves. I imagined nurturing and keeping a starter for sourdough that I could pass down to my grandchildren. I imagined the smells and the warmth, I even imagined the forearm strength that I would develop from handling all that dough. It was going to be awesome!
The first thing I did was get my research material, The Bread Bible. It was the perfect start. Detailed and thorough, it covered every variety of topic and answered all the questions I would have. And there it sat, just like my regular Bible, too dense and heavy for a casual undertaking. Like so many other hobbies and good intentions I just never took the time. I dabbled in it here and there but always ended up taking the easy way out and buying something mediocre at the store. A couple years ago I recommitted and was gifted a baking stone from a co-worker who was privy to my diatribes on bread but my initiative again fell short. It was just too convenient to pick something up at the store that required zero prior commitment.
Then, reddit.com led me to this post (possible language and content warning, no one controls what goes on in there.) Within that post I found this recipe and this video. The recipe is from a book titled Artisan Bread in five Minutes a Day and the video is of Mark Bittman of The New York Times “discovering” baker Jim Lahey and his no-knead bread. The recipes are similar and I am not sure who came up with it, (I am sure there are others) perhaps I should consult the bible to find the source. All I am saying is that I am not responsible for the recipes and do not take any credit for them, but I am going to use them, and tell you what I think.
First off, I am not going to just cut an paste the recipes, so here is the link to the No-Knead Artisan Bread.
It takes minutes to pull together. In fact,the longest part of the first step is just retrieving the ingredients and measuring them.
…to this, takes maybe a minute. Seriously, I almost got out a stopwatch just to time it. All you need to do is incorporate all of the flour into the water and cover it and let it sit.
This is where the best part of this recipe comes into play. After you let it rise you can store the dough until you are ready to use it. An hour and a half before you want fresh baked bread, break off a piece and form your loaf, then let it rest.
With twenty minutes of resting left, get your oven setup and start preheating. The recipe says to use a baking stone and roasting pan but I found that there is some flexibility. I used a cake pan for the water and in addition to the stone I successfully used a pyrex casserole dish and a cast iron frying pan. I think the key is using something dense that holds heat, so, I would not try just a regular baking sheet. The water pan is important because, if you watched the video, humidity affects the baking of the dough. Again with more research I could figure out exactly what that affect is, but for now all that is important is that it works.
Right before you put the dough in the oven add some flair. Dust with flour and create slashes in the top with a serrated knife. I also put on a kettle of water to heat up and add to the pan at the same time the dough goes into the oven.
After 30 minutes the crust is dark brown and ready to come out. All three of my loaves, made on different baking surfaces, came out the same way so don’t be discouraged if you do not have a stone. In addition, I also made the recipe in the video and got a great looking round loaf. It couldn’t be easier. Once you have the dough made you can have fresh made bread in about an hour and half. Not an hour and a half of work but an hour and a half of doing whatever else you need to do while the dough rests or bakes.
Now that it is said and done, I am curious why this has been a mystery until now. It is pure and simple in its preparation and its ingredients. Maybe I missed the boat somewhere along the way and everyone is making this recipe already and this post has been a waste of time. If that is the case then I am mad at everyone for not letting me in on this earlier. If not, then enjoy! And I expect to see a lot more fresh baked loaves at dinner parties this year.