On November 8, 2006, the NY Times ran an article on no-knead bread, te trick being that you used less yeast and less dough manipulation, but you let the yeast eat and multiple and produce gas for half to three-fourths of a day to create the proper gluten matrix. I decided to give it a try. Photo-documentation provided.
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1.5 hours plus 14 to 20 hours' rising
* I took the recipe as written by the NY Times.
Tuesday morning around 1a.m. I mixed the flour, yeast, and salt with a fork in a large bowl. Then I added the listed amount of warm water. Using a wooden spoon I stirred until the water and flour had mixed.
The air in my apartment is very dry, and I've noticed recently that I've had to add extra water to most of my baking recipes. Here I added an extra 1/8 to 1/4 cup of water, which allowed all the flour to become moist; with the listed amount there was too much flour left on the bottom of the bowl.
I realized that I had no plastic wrap, so I transferred the dough from the first mixing bowl to a larger bowl that also had an airtight lid. I set the bowl not far the the radiator in the kitchen, but not too close to raise the temperature of the dough too far above room temperature, which was already in the high 60s. I decided to give it close to 18 hours to rise, which meant not touching it until 6 or 7p.m. Tuesday evening.
When I removed the lid from the sealed bowl I found, as described by the recipe, plenty of bubbles and the smell of yeast hit my nose. I hesitate to say assault, for it was not that strong, but it was noticeable.
I spread some flour on the counter and then dumped the dough. It was sticky to handle and quite moist. It could have absorbed flour for quite a while; it felt almost like regular dough before the second batch of flour is added, and when one notices the list of ingredients, one notices that it has enough flour for one loaf in a traditional, kneaded recipe, but almost enough water for two loaves. The amount of yeast is kept low, which is not a problem, since, as an active biological agent, the yeast reproduces, and furthermore does it in a much more extensive period of time than the usual two hours or so in a standard recipe.
I covered the dough mass for fifteen minutes, enjoyed a bowl of salad, and returned to the dough, which I shaped into a ball of sorts and which quickly lost its shape and firmness. I placed it on one floured cloth and placed another cloth over it.
About half an hour before I planned to put the dough in the oven I turned on the gas, pulled out the middle rack, and pulled out my pasta pot. I was concerned about its suitability for being placed in the oven, but it held up admirably. I used the large pot because I wasn't certain whether my smaller pot would be large enough; in the future I might use a slightly smaller pot that I have; it is not nearly as tall.
At the right time I removed the pot, put it on the stove, and plopped the dough from the towel/cloth into the metal container. I sealed the top, put it in the oven, and let it bake for thirty minutes. Be careful removing the lid from the pot; there is plenty of hot steam waiting to escape and burn your fingers. I then let the bread bake for another 20—30 minutes. My oven tends to underbake at times and so I often allow things to cook for the full time allotted, if not a little more.
After removing the pot I let it sit a few minutes before dumping the golden loaf onto a rack of sorts to let it cool. The inside is tender, the crust crunchy, and the texture and taste resemble European white bread from a bakery or even the better breads you get in your bread basket at a restaurant.
In short: would bake again.
Yield: One 1.5-pound loaf.
—February 13 2007