Last fall, after probably the 10th person in as many weeks asked me if I’d tried Jim Lahey’s no-knead homemade bread yet, I finally decided to give it a go. I had never made my own bread before — in my mind bakers were as different a species from cooks as chemists were — which was probably why I had avoided it as long as I did. But the hardest thing about this recipe is remembering to mix up the ingredients the night before you want to make it. After that, you spend about two minutes on it and you have a fresh freaking loaf of bread! It would be worth it if only for the amazingly hearthy vibe the aroma lends to the house which seems to put the girls into a Little Mermaid-like trance. (Warning: After the first wave of euphoria, you will be completely resentful that you ever spent a penny on that “artisanal” loaf.) Click to the jump for recipe.
No-Knead Bread (adapted from Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread)
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 heaping teaspoon sugar
1. In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients: flour, yeast and salt, and whatever flavorings (rosemary, thyme, Parmesan, all optional). Add 1 5/8 cups of water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a large plate. Let the dough rest for at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, as much as 24 (it’s very forgiving) at a warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. But, after about 6 or 8 hours, give the dough a good folding for about fifteen seconds.
2. After 18 hours, the dough will be batter-like and spongy. Use a rubber spatula and fold it over on itself a few times. (This is the equivalent of punching it down, I guess).
3. At least a half hour before the dough is ready, heat the oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (Le Crueset, cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic) in the oven as it heats.
4. When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven. Sprinkle flour in the pot (this will keep the loaf from sticking). Slide the dough into the pot. Sprinkle some flour on top of the dough, (along with a dusting of cumin seeds or rosemary and a dash of coarse salt, for instance). Cover it with a lid and let it bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and let it bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the loaf is beautifully browned. Let it cool on a rack.
Yields one 1-½-pound loaf