Sunday, December 6, 2015

No Knead Rustic Bread

Jim Lahey is a genius. Never had bread making been such a breeze. Ask me, I have slaved over breadmaking for years. Bread is ever present in my house. Be it sourdough, ciabatta or Pepperidge Farm loaves, they constitute breakfast. I believe a slice a day keeps my ailments at bay! And then there is that heavenly aroma of freshly baked bread. Irresistibly enticing, I cannot stay away from a just baked loaf. 

A version of Lahey bread came out in the New York Times a few years ago. Mark Bittman extolled the virtues of this technique, a mix and forget about it dough. The neatly cut article gathers dust in a large file stuffed with NYT recipe clippings. Recently I come across another version in Ruth Reichl's My Kitchen Year. A former Gourmet editor, her angst is my salvation. Tinkered a bit, the recipe still commands the same interest. I follow the simple truths of Ruth. Flour, salt, yeast and water are roughly mixed. The ragged dough sits on the counter for twenty odd hours. I sporadically lift the lid to inhale the yeasty smell as the dough rises. The slow rise gives way to a light airy dough, ready for the oven, with the intoxicating aroma of proofed dough. The dough has a bubbly surface . A cast iron pan heats in a hot hot oven. I gently tip the dough onto the bottom of the pan. The oven door shuts. I let some butter soften as Carly Simon's Anticipation filters through my mind.

Slightly amended from Jim Lahey's No Knead Bread Recipe 
1 loaf

3 cups Bread or All Purpose Flour 
1/2 teaspoon Yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 1/3 cup Water

Place flour in a large bowl.

Add yeast and salt. Stir to mix.

Make a well in the center and add water to it. Gently incorporate flour and water till you have a rough dough. It will not be smooth, but have ragged edges. 

Cover bowl and let it sit on the counter for 18-24 hours undisturbed. 

When the dough has risen the surface will have bumps and small perforations. It will also have a yeasty odor.

When you are ready to bake bread, heat oven to 450F. 

Put a 10 or 12 inch cast iron pan into the oven as it heats. 

When the oven has reached the required temperature, take cast iron pan out of the oven. 

Use a plastic dough scraper to gently place the dough into hot pan. Do this carefully starting from the outer edges of the dough coaxing it into the pan. You do not want to handle the dough too much as you want to keep the airy quality of the dough intact. The bread will spread a bit in the pan. It will look like a wide ciabatta. The surface will be a little rough. That's okay.

Put the pan back in the oven. Let bread bake uncovered for 45 minutes till it turns a crusty brown. 

Remove from oven and let bread cool on a rack for 30 minutes. If you can wait that long! 

Slice, slather with butter and enjoy!


I bake the bread uncovered as I like a crusty loaf. Here's the explanation.The original recipe tells you to use a Dutch oven with a lid. I did not try that method, having not read the original recipe in its entirety. My bad. I baked the loaf uncovered as the bread in the cast iron pan did leave room for a lid. Much to my delight the loaf turned out brown and crusty. So uncovered baking is my choice by default. 

Once the loaf emerges I can hardly wait. The intoxicating aroma of fresh bread tantalizes my taste buds as I wait for the loaf to cool. A serrated bread knife reveals a slice with several small air pockets. The surface is dark brown and crusty, much like the brun pau of Bombay bakeries. I carry the loaf to Florida. The loaf diminishes as we eat many a slice. Colleen slathers blueberry jam and Gouda on her slice. She says it is very gooda!