Yo! No-Knead Bread!

Guys, I had an epiphany on Monday – I can make no-knead bread!

This may not sound like much of a revelation to you, but to me, it was as exciting as, well, exciting as it gets around here. I haven’t baked bread in a long while; my yoga teacher training schedule has really cramped my culinary style, and I’m pretty sure my sourdough starter is dead in my fridge. This is all to say, I chose my priorities last fall, and bread was not one of them. So here we are.

Anyway, on Monday, I was poking around the Internet at the end of the workday, when I happened on the New York Times no-knead bread recipe. It’s basic – volume, not mass – and plain – 100% white flour – but it caught my fancy all the same. Apparently, it’s one of the most popular recipes the New York Times has ever posted! Wow!

Now, purist that I am, I started baking bread way back when with a sourdough starter – the most finicky of all bread making methods. My early progress is on Instagram – it was a steep, sloppy learning curve. Over time, I worked to proficiency in both sourdoughs and yeasted breads, both lean and enriched, never once seriously considering this simplistic method I saw from time to time on YouTube – I ain’t that basic, thanks. Or, leave it to me to tackle the summit first.

But purism takes a whole lot of time. A single batch of sourdough – in my latest incarnation – requires that the sourdough be removed from the fridge, fed with two parts flour and water, then fed again eight hours later, before sitting overnight to rise before the final dough is mixed. It must then be laboriously, arduously kneaded until nearly full gluten development – this precludes the successive folding required of lesser-kneaded doughs – before it is left to proof for four hours. Following those four hours, the loaf is lightly shaped, rested on the bench for fifteen minutes, then proofed again, this time in a wicker banneton, for three hours. Two hours into that final proof, the oven and Dutch oven must be preheated – yes, it takes that long to preheat cast iron properly. And fifteen minutes prior to the bake, the loaf must be dusted and inverted onto a parchment round, scored both for effect and appearance, and set for loading into the 450-degree cast iron pot. An 18-ounce loaf will bake in 45 minutes, of which the first 30 are covered, the remaining 15 uncovered – depending on the oven I use. It’s a demanding lifestyle; it can easily eat up a weekend. I haven’t had weekends to spare for some time lately. So, we’ve reverted to store-bought bread. It lasts suspiciously longer than it should…

…but this – this no-knead bread! 100 parts flour, 70 parts water, two parts salt, and one part yeast – scale, mix, set overnight. Twelve to twenty hours later, proceed with shape-proof-bake. Simple! I set about it with great interest – mix, cover, carry on. I went to bed, woke up, went to work, came home, and returned to my dough; it had risen from a rough lump to a nice pillow-like pile of dough. I scraped it out of the bowl and onto a floured counter; shaped it loosely, and left it to sit, covered. I cleaned up all my dishes, then shaped it again, tightly, before placing it in a well-floured banneton. It rose there until I was ready to bake it, after which I flipped it over.

Here’s where the fun happened. The loaf, though floured, stuck to my banneton. I’ve been there before – I pried it away gently, loaf unharmed. I transferred it to a piece of parchment, placed it on my pizza peel, and prepared to load it into my piping-hot cast iron pot. I pulled my pot out of the oven, staged it for loading, then went to transfer my dough – slide from peel to hand, drop into pot, cover, cook.

Nope – this one fought like an octopus at every edge; it’d overflowed its parchment and onto the peel below, to which it was solidly stuck. I tried to pry it off gently, then roughly, then gave up, used a bench knife, folded the thing into a taco, and quickly dropped it into the pot. As the blob defied definition, I dropped it awkwardly; it made contact with the wall of the pot and fused immediately. To top it off, I hadn’t even scored the loaf, a sure recipe for a blowout – the most novice of novice moves. I thought I’d have a spaceship of a loaf for sure. Or maybe a lopsided volcano. I’d like to think I’m open minded.

Rather than vent any frustration, I just laughed; I’m learning! I had no clue whether the parchment was under or in my dough, and it was bound to be a unique loaf, given its placement. I placed the lid back on my pot and placed it back in the oven. Forty minutes later, I had a golden brown boule, my first in months. It looked a bit like a volcano, a bit like a toothless monster, devouring my parchment paper. But it was light, airy, and delicious – a welcome break from the dark days of the empty bread box.

With a bit more confidence, I mixed up a brand new batch of dough, set it in the corner, and called it a night. I put it in the fridge the next morning, and baked it the following evening. Bread’s back in my court! I just pulled my third loaf using this method out of the oven, and I’ll be using it until life slows down. And when’s that, you may ask? Probably never… the writing’s on the wall: we’re moving to Korea!

James

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