Friday, March 5, 2010

The Bread of Life

I finally tried no-knead bread. Yes, I am late to this game, but like everyone says, it is truly revolutionary how easy it is to make a great artisan loaf with this recipe. No need (pun intended) to take the time to knead by hand or to knead by food processor and then wash its bazillion parts. No need to spend all afternoon or evening monitoring a rising blob of dough.

I started making my own bread two and a half years ago, as part of my campaign to cut out processed foods. Even healthy sounding breads available at the supermarket are hiding high fructose corn syrup and preservatives. Baking at home is cheaper than shelling out $4 for a fresh bakery loaf and allows you to control the ingredients. I have the added option of making totally local bread, since here in NYC, we are lucky to have access to locally grown and milled flours from the Blew Farm, Wild Hive Farm, and Cayuga Organics, sold at the Union Square and Grand Army Plaza Greenmarkets.

I've kept it up fairly faithfully, making a loaf every week or two, except for those steamy summer days when you wouldn't dare turn on the oven, and except for the six months when my sister lived with us and brought home fresh bread daily from the bakery where she worked. My go-to recipe used to be the basic whole wheat recipe in The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book: A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking, but it takes over four hours from start to finish and involves a lot of hands-on time, which was annoying on work nights.

In contrast, the no-knead method feels like a breeze. I take five minutes to mix dough one night after work. The next night when I come home, I simply reshape the dough into a ball, wait two hours, and then bake it for an hour. If you've wanted to try breadmaking, but you've been too intimidated, I encourage you to start with this method.

* You do not need a dutch oven. I don't have one, which is why I always avoided this method, but I finally took the time to look it up, and my CrockPot stoneware is oven safe and it does the charm (not including the glass lid - cover the top with foil instead to catch the steam).

* A regular loaf pan, preheated, will also work with a foil cover. The Kitchn suggests some more dutch alternatives here

* The recipe is forgiving. For a while, I was lacking in teaspoons and my yeast measurements were more of a guessing game than an exact measurement, but 24 hours allows plenty of time to rise and develop gluten even if you're a little short on yeast. Likewise, if you're worried you didn't get the right ratio of flour to water, it will still turn out okay.

* This recipe can be used for making a decent pizza crust. Divide the dough in half to make two nice-size pizzas on a preheated baking sheet or preheated cast iron pan.

* You can go ahead and add whole wheat flour. It won't rise as much or get as holey, but it will still have a crackly top and become a moist, hearty whole wheat loaf.

* I have experimented with making a multigrain loaf, but I went a little too crazy (cornmeal + rye + whole wheat + ground flax seeds + molasses + yogurt + sunflower seeds) and I don't think there was enough gluten to give it structure. This version was adequate, but not stellar. I'm going to work on this and will be sure to report back with a multigrain recipe once I've made some progress.


  1. Must. Try. This. I hate store bread but can rarely find time for real bread making. Sometimes we manage the pizza crust for special nights, but bread is too much. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I love the no knead bread, but I haven't tried using it as a pizza crust yet - must do that next!

  3. I need to try this... we lost our neighborhood bakery a while back, and with it easy access to great, fresh, affordable whole wheat bread :(

    thanks for the inspiration!

  4. these look ammmmazing. I can't wait to try this. I'm glad you've already scoped out the shortcuts!

    Hope you are having a lovely weekend!


  5. ok, you've sold me on the no-knead bread. mark bittman is a personal hero of mine but when he called for a dutch oven i sadly abandoned the idea. rachel (above) seems to have it down, too, so you gals are giving me motivation to play around with it.

    also, julia, will you PA-PLEASE do a post on that insanely delicious-looking pizza? a pizza post is definitely in order! you can come over to my house and bake bread, gluten-lacking or otherwise, any time!

    thanks also for the sweet comments about the show. it was a pretty wonderful night.

  6. bigBANG studio - pizza, you say? okay i'll put something together on pizza soon. i never tire of pizza, eating it or talking about it. in the meantime, you can check out older pizza recipes in my recipe archive:

  7. oh my god, i can't wait to start making bread again and try out these recipes! two years ago, my boyfriend was on a bread-making kick and we swore we wouldn't buy sliced bread anymore. that lasted three months. i have to get back into it.

  8. Wow, that bread has more nooks and crannies than the kind I spent an evening kneeding. I will give it a shot next time around (although I'll need to lift some weights while it bakes to get my arm workout).

  9. Good lord, that looks delicious. And thanks for the heads up on the flour available at the Union Square market, I nearly peed my pants when I found out about the market (we're going to be living, like, 2 blocks from Union Square when we're in NY)

  10. Peonies - oooh 2 blocks from the union square greenmarket. end of april is when the market is just beginning to come alive again after the winter. it's all about the asparagus and strawberries then. and flowers (maybe even peonies) and little baby plants. the flour from the Blew Farm is the cheapest out of the local flour options - sold at the same stand as High Hope Hogs. if they don't have flour on display, ask if they have any in the truck.