From scratch for the love of simplicity
Nearly every conversation where the mention that I make bread the question is asked “Oh! You have a bread machine?” Perhaps instead of telling them that I don’t, and never will, I should just say, “Yes, yeast is my machine!”
Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread recipe was introduced to me by a foodie friend so many loaves ago I can’t count. The slow realization that I could make it myself, watching him make loaf after loaf with results that still make my mouth water was transformational. Standard bread from the grocery store has been off the shopping list ever since, the convenience isn’t worth it.
Yeast is truly the star of this bread, it does all of the work and elevates bread from tasty filler to magical ambrosia. The recipe is also extremely portable, I have made this many times for family and friends when I travel using and adapting to ingredients and equipment with fantastic results each time.
The changes I have made to the recipe and technique are iterative, reducing the clean up and steps required to a laughable amount of effort compared to the end product. Experimentation with this bread is a very forgiving formula with the worst outcome being a loaf that was a bit bland. One of the biggest transformations to the technique I use is parchment paper.
In Jim’s original instructions there is a step where you prepare the dough after the long rise for a second rise. This step involves heavily flouring a surface, a few folds of the fairly wet dough and then yet more flour on top before covering with a cloth. Playing with different hydration levels to reduce the stickiness and amount of flour needed yielded a dryer crumb. This was a shift away from the almost pudding like crumb that I became addicted to, which requires a very well hydrated dough.
What I came up with over the years of trying different things was to skip the flouring and folding on a surface. Instead I take a spatula after the long rise and work the dough enough in the bowl to form the gluten a little and release the gasses. Then I place a generous sheet of parchment paper into a medium sized wicker basket and pour the dough in, covering it for the second rise.
This trick has several benefits, you can transfer the dough directly to the hot vessel with the parchment paper. No residue is left over after baking and you no longer have large dry flour pockets in the final loaf. It also greatly reduces the mess and footprint you would normally have with using a floured surface. The loaf that comes out has a beautiful sheen and incredibly crisp crust with that tender pudding like crumb.
White flour never tasted so good. With the long rise the yeast truly transforms it’s colour and flavour into something almost sourdough like. You can experimenting with many different types of flour and ratios giving you a nearly unlimited repertoire of texture and flavour profiles. Light rye, dark rye, whole wheat, spelt, they all work. Key to rise height though is retaining at least 30% white flour, but don’t take my word for it try all the variations, just don’t skimp on the salt. You can also add vital wheat gluten to accommodate flours that are lacking.
The last major aspect of this recipe I will touch on is salt, Jim’s original directions have had comments suggesting it didn’t have enough. The age old formula for bread goes something like this:
Add 2% Salt, 1% yeast in relation to the total weight of the flour.
Baking is not cooking, it is chemistry. Thus a scale is essential, my preferred measurement is in grams. So with the above example the 1% salt will give you a slightly bland product. I would bet that bakers tweak that formula to their tastes developed over the years and cheat on the salt, adding just a bit more.
5g Dry Yeast
Altering the salt by more than a grams or two in either direction has a drastic effect on the flavour, swinging between bland and inedible.
Teasing the ingredients now, I will write up the process and additional details next. Consider until then what you think of bread, baking and the perceived effort. Have you tried it before, success or failure? Or have you only others stories that colour your opinion on tackling such a skill? I ask you to shed all these notions and join in on experiencing what it is like to bake your own artisanal loaf for around $1 and no more than 15 minutes work over 24 hours.