It would come as no news at all to those who know me that I am a stubborn, stubborn sort.
If something defies me, I will hammer at it until I have gotten it. That goes for most things I have encountered so far, with the notable exception of tennis. Notable because after having had friends and an ex-boyfriend try to teach me, owning decent rackets, and having taken a course in it, I frankly, suck at tennis still, for all I would love to play it. But exceptions only prove the rule, and so it was that the no-knead bread that ought to be easy enough for kiddies to make, had dared to defy me.
Which, of course, resulted in frantic reading of everything I could find and alternative recipes on the internet, and interrogating bread-baking friends regarding their experiences. And adjusting the flour/water balance some, and calculating a hydration percentage to check against something a friend had read in this very good book (Swedish, sadly no translation available – but I plan to both, get it and post recipes, so rejoyce!). And, obviously, more baking.
And boy, did that make a difference!
The bread rose, and it puffed up further in the oven, and the crust crackled gratuitously as it cooled on the rack when it came out – and the crumb… it was truly impressive, just the right amount of moist chewiness and large and well-spaced holes. This, this is what I had been going after in that previous attempt! Moreover, I had used 2 teaspoons of dried (and pretty well pounded in a mortar) culinary lavender in the dough, so the aroma was utterly amazing.
If you haven’t ever used lavender in baking, I would really urge you to try – just please, for the love of little green apples, get the culinary-grade one. You don’t want a mouthful of soap with your bread, and that is what you would be getting if you tried using something out of a potpourri sachet or something intended for a bath preparation! But, I digress.
Now, after having made all the adjustments, it is a truly lazy-sofa-dweller-easy recipe for gorgeous bread, and the best part is that if you have a sourdough starter, it is also a completely painless, really novice-proof method for sourdough breadmaking. One that is, arguably, easier than making bread with regular yeast and other methods. Now, do I have your attention?
If you make it with sourdough starter, it will also keep like a sourdough. Which is to say it neither molds, nor goes tough outrageously for several days when kept unwrapped, with just the cut side covered in foil, or in one of those neat bread bags that I do not have. So not only is this easy, it is a good way to make bread that is not in a hurry to go off, making it a good option when you count pennies and do not want to waste what you have bought. In this case, that is just flour and salt and the optional lavender – sourdough starter, while not free, only needs feeding about once a month if kept in the fridge, so it is virtually free as well.
Since my camera was not at home when the bread was cut open originally, and there was daylight around, it was photographed two or three days later, which has done it really no harm!
So, to the recipe (minimal as it is), which is this time NOT adapted from any website, nor do I agree with the original New York Times no-knead bread article – neither about proportions, the time to raise it, nor about the whole proofing-in-towel idea, which is frankly asking for a stuck-dough disaster.
The idea, however, is downright brilliant!
You will need:
- A bowl, a dough spatula, a dutch oven or clay baker or a bottom of a cast-iron casserole and a large steel bowl to cover it (for baking – do NOT preheat the bowl if using).
- To get the pretty stripes and domed shape, a banetton is really helpful. I imagine you could also raise this bread on a sheet of floured baking parchment or a silpat (non-stick baking mat), and it would turn out fairly decent too.
- If using a banetton, you will need a bit of wheat bran or rye flour or whatever it is you use to powder it before using it for bread to avoid sticking. I used wheat bran this time.
- Sourdough starter (about 50g, bubbling and awake). I feed mine with some rye and some wheat flour, it appears to like the combo best, but a pure wheat one will be juuuuust fine!
- 475g bread flour. I will experiment more with various flours, but pure white bread flour (about 11-12% protein) works fine.
- 1.5-1.75 teaspoon salt. Iodized table salt works fine, though you can go fancier. I couldn’t be bothered to grind my sea salt so that is what I used.
- 3.5dl (350ml or 0.35L) cold water.
- 2 teaspoons dried herb of your choice (lavender, oh yes, make it lavender if you have some!), pounded to soft shreds in a mortar. Bashing is therapeutic you know! I would say fresh would work too, just make it an even tablespoon then and chop finely instead of pounding.
- Note: I use a 100% hydration starter so it can be counted as 25g flour and 25g water. This brings us to 375ml water and 500g flour. 375/500*100=75% hydration. If you want to adjust the size of the dough, keep the math in mind. If you just want to use the recipe, it’s a useful thing to remember but not necessary as the quantities are already written above.
What you do:
- Put flour, salt, and any seasoning if using (lavender in my case) into a bowl. Swirl with a dry whisk to mix.
- Whisk your sourdough starter into your cold water in another bowl. Trust me you want to do this and not skip this step – since there is barely any mixing, left alone kneading in this method, you want to distribute the starter well into the dry ingredients from the start. So whisk whisk till it’s all murky water and no large starter blobs clinging to bottom of bowl.
- Pour the water+starter mix into the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon, silicone spatula or whatever. It will be shaggy and not appear too wet. Keep stirring and poking it till most of the flour is incorporated. Or you can cover it and let it sit 10 min to soak through and then stir a bit, pushing bits of dough down the sides of the bowl if any get stuck there.
- Cover with plastic wrap (clingfilm), or put the entire bowl into a plastic bag and seal with a clip. Put in non-too-cold place in your kitchen. Doesn’t have to be very warm (don’t stick it on the radiator, but say half a meter from it is good, or on a counter). Don’t get hung up on temperature as long as your kitchen isn’t freezing cold.
- Leave for about 8-12 hours. If you do not intend to bake it the same day, leave out for 6-8 hours and then stick the bowl in the refrigerator till the next day. If your dough was refrigerated, give it about an hour to come to room temperature the day after and then go to next step.
- Flour a board or surface generously and poke the dough out of the bowl onto it. It will be somewhat sticky but it will not be liquid and it will not actually get stuck to anything. Or shouldn’t. It will flatten out some under its own weight. Flour your hands and sprinkle the top of the dough with a bit of flour too, and do a single stretch-and-fold.
- Powder the top of the folded dough with a bit more flour, cover it with the plastic wrap you used on the bowl (unless it is wet then get a new piece), and leave it be for 30 minutes or so.
- Sprinkle the banetton with wheat bran, or flour a baking parchment/mat. Pick up your dough, lightly shape it into a ball with your hands, and rest it seam-side down if using banetton, but seam side up if you are using baking parchment or a mat.
- Cover with a towel and allow to rise for 1.5 hours or until approximately 1.5-2 times the size. About an hour into the rise, pop your dutch oven, pan or clay baker into the oven and begin preheating it to 250C (yes, that high).
- When the dough is ready and oven is preheated (read this post about safety and handling of really hot cookware for baking!), invert the banetton onto a piece of baking parchment or gently slide the dough off the mat onto baking parchment right-side up (silicone mats are not rated for the sort of temperature we are talking here).
- Take the hot dish out of the oven USING THICK MITTS! and place the baking parchment with dough on it inside. Edges sticking out are not a problem. Cover with preheated lid, or the upside-down bowl if using. Stick back into the oven.
- Bake for 30 minutes covered, then remove the lid or bowl (latter may need a bit of help with a spatula stuck under an edge to lift), reduce heat to 190-200C and bake for a further 15-20 minutes uncovered until the bread is no longer pale.
- Remove from oven and out of the baking dish and cool on rack for 2 hours minimum before cutting.
Trust me, the wait (and lack of effort) is worth it.