February 6, 2010

Everyone’s talking about no-knead bread. It must have been one of the most gifted holiday cookbooks, according to the abundance of blog posts about the brilliance of this bread. Let me just chime in. This is the tastiest, easiest, most dependable bread I’ve ever made.
Since we first met, Dennis has talked about his grandmother’s bread. Grandma Barrow’s bread, cut THIS thick (thumb and finger about 2″ apart) spread with peanut butter and jelly. These were the sandwiches of his youth, of his dreams, and that bread just vexed me.

I’ve baked bread for years. Decades, in fact. My challah is really good. I learned to make raisin/cinnamon swirl bread in high school, for heaven’s sake. Focaccia, flatbreads, grilled naan, pizza – all easy as can be. Try as I might, I couldn’t manage to satisfy that memory of Grandma Barrow’s bread.

My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method

Not until Jim Lahey came into my life, that is. Here’s the story on Mr. Lahey and no knead bread, as Mark Bittman first told it in 2006.

Stir up the four basic ingredients – flour, water, yeast, salt – and let rise very slowly over 12 to 18 hours. Gently fold, let rest, and gently place in a preheated cast iron covered dutch oven.

Take note: While it’s a simple bread, there is one very important, utterly vital, piece of equipment. Maybe you have a big (5 qt) cast iron covered dutch oven somewhere in your kitchen cupboards. Lahey references Lodge, Emile Henry and Le Creuset. Here’s a little hint – every time I’ve been in Marshalls, they have had Staub, Le Creuset or look alike brands at very reasonable prices.

What emerges is a light, airy, hard-crusted rustic loaf. Absolutely fantastic. Ethereal. Crackling. And what Dennis remembers from his childhood.

first loaf – too much flour on the towel and upside down in pot – still yummy

We did many tests. Dennis jumped in and made bread with me (so fun!) We made the Basic White Bread three times, Whole Wheat Bread twice, and Rye Bread twice. And I’m here to report.

Each time we made the bread, it got better. We needed to develop skills – first, the stirring – the ingredients need to be well stirred, not casually mixed.

Also, the folding stage – flour the towel well by rubbing about three tablespoons of flour into the center of the towel in a circle about 18″ in diameter. Use the heel of your hand to get the flour into the fabric. Brush away the excess. Do not add more flour, if you can help it.

Gently ease the dough out of the bowl onto the floured towel, trying to maintain the gluten strands by easing the dough away from the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula or a bench scraper. Fold the dough gently in half, giving the dough a quarter turn, folding, turning and folding three or four times. Use a bench scraper to help you lift the dough and turn it over, seam side down. Be gentle.

Finally, when it comes time to bake the loaf, it took a couple of tries to center the dough in the middle of the hot cast iron pan, and to learn to let it flip over without panic.

f it ends up on one side of the pot, or upside down, don’t stress out. It’s going to be gorgeous no matter where it lands.

The beauty of this bread is the crackly crust and the big giant air holes throughout.

We loved the white bread. It was a perfect loaf for toast, sandwiches, croutons, bread crumbs.

The wheat bread was tasty. A nice brown bread with a tangy flavor.
And the rye bread was fine. Not great. I blame it on the quality of the rye flour and will be searching for better rye.

You see, now that I’ve fulfilled Dennis’ bread dream, I will pursue mine – a good sour rye that for the life of me I can only find in New York City.

I’m not done with Mr. Lahey’s book. There is so much more to learn from this technique – he has some spectacular ideas for the white loaf, including one long batard shown with oven roasted tomatoes nestled in the surface of the bread.

The white bread – seriously – is the best all around loaf I’ve ever made. I figured out the timing for our household – I stir the ingredients together after lunch (1:30-2pm) and let it rise overnight. Wake up, fold the loaf around breakfast time. Bake two hours later, and the bread is ready in time for lunch. Of course, I work at home, so this works for me.

For those of you who go out to an office, try this for timing.
7am Stir together the ingredients when your coffee is brewing in the morning. It’s only four ingredients. You can do it.
7pm Turn the loaf out and do the folding part.
8:30Turn on the oven and slide in the covered pot.
9pm bake the loaf.
9:45 You’ll have a fresh loaf that will be ready for breakfast the next day, and for sandwiches to take to work and/or school.

And my final bit of advice. It’s very important to allow the bread to cool completely. Completely. While the idea of warm bread fresh from the oven is intoxicating, in reality, the bread is better if allowed to cool completely.

The Magic Recipe
Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread
Makes one loaf

1/4 tsp dry yeast
1-1/2 c cool water
3 c bread flour (wheat: 2c bread/1c wheat flour; rye: 2-1/4c bread/3/4c rye flour)
1-1/2 tsp salt

Stir together all the ingredients until you have a shaggy, sticky dough.
Cover and set aside for 12-18 hours. The longer this rise, the more rustic and sour the bread.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured tea towel. Lifting with a bench scraper, fold the dough over, turn one-quarter turn, and fold again. Do this three or four times, then turn the entire loaf over, seam side down, and loosely fold the towel over the dough.
Put the towel on a wooden cutting board or a stack of newspapers – not on your cold countertop – and allow the dough to rise for two hours.
Thirty minutes before the end of the second rise, with the rack in the lower third of the oven, turn the oven on to 475• and slide in your cast-iron covered dutch oven.
At the end of the rise, undo the towel and allow the dough to fall gently into the bottom of the dutch oven. Cover it and bake for 30 minutes.
Uncover the loaf and bake for 15-30 additional minutes, and the bread is deeply golden and registers an internal temperature of 200•.
My loaves are always ready after 45 minutes total baking time, but your mileage may vary.

14 Responses to “White, Wheat or Rye? Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread”

  1. Elyse

    Great post, Cathy. Thx for all the nuances – sure to create success for other bakers.

  2. Chow and Chatter

    looks wonderful i have started making bread with healthy bread in 5 min a day another no knead method with wholewheat flour love it

  3. Kelsey B.

    I LOVE no knead bread! I do a lemon-rosemary version. I am still so bummed I missed you in NYC!

  4. Marina

    Great post Cathy, I tried the white bread already and it was the best bread I have ever baked. I will try the rye one, but I think i will mix of white flour and half rye. I saw your IG profile and could not found any bread pic… are you still baking this bread with this method?

    • Cathy Barrow

      Hi Marina, I do occasionally use Jim Lahey’s method, but more often I bake from the recipes in Hot Bread Kitchen, my favorite bread baking book ever.

  5. Judy

    This has been a great recipe for me, but I just can’t seem to get the knack of flouring the towel – it’s always sticking. I’m using a very loose weave kitchen towel. Do you think I’d have better results with a tighter weave, more like a tea towel? Thanks!

    • Cathy Barrow

      Yes! Try a tight weave towel. And really rub the flour into the towel using the heel of your hand. If you have semolina flour, that’s particularly good at releasing from the loaf.

  6. Jennifer Brumfield

    I’m making the bread but skip the towel. I put some cornmeal on a sheet of parchment, place the shaped loaf on that then place it in a bowl or low basket to rise. When ready to bake I just grab it by the parchment and place it right in the Dutch oven to bake on the parchment. Seems to work just fine.


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