This method for bread came to me via my friend and regular supper guest Nick, who declared, on recently leaving his job, that he was going to "learn how to make bread". The description "no knead" (AKA "minimalist bread") is absolutely apt - the dough requires almost no kneading and relies simply on a long proving time (up to 24 hours), a super hot oven, and a Le Creuset-style cast iron casserole dish. It goes against all the received wisdom of traditional bread-making - the kneading (by hand or in a mixer), proving, knocking back and the second proving. I suspect Paul Hollywood, baking god and co-judge of The Great British Bake Off, would be horrified. I admit I am am rather late to this method: a quick internet search revealed that this simple formula has been doing the rounds for some years now.

The recipe/method was developed by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in the Hell's Kitchen district of New York City . The resulting loaf could easily pass for any "artisanal" or "hand-crafted" loaf you might find in Waitrose, Gail's, the Whole Food Market or indeed French über-bakery Poilane. And the flavour? As good as any of the aforementioned bread makers/suppliers, with a crisp, burnished crust and a good crumb. It also makes fantastic toast. I was so impressed with my first attempt (and I only let it prove for about 6 hours), that I am completely converted to this simple method.

This recipe comes from the Sullivan Street Bakery website. 

3 cups (430g) flour
1½ cups (345g or 12oz) water
¼ teaspoon (1g) yeast
1¼ teaspoon (8g) salt
olive oil (for coating)
extra flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal (for dusting)

Two medium mixing bowls
6 to 8 quart pot with lid (Pyrex glass, Le Creuset cast iron, or ceramic)
Wooden Spoon or spatula (optional)
Plastic wrap
Two or three cotton dish towels (not terrycloth)

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add water and incorporate by hand or with a wooden spoon or spatula for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Lightly coat the inside of a second medium bowl with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest 12 hours at room temperature (approx. 65-72°F).

Remove the dough from the bowl and fold once or twice. Let the dough rest 15 minutes in the bowl or on the work surface. Next, shape the dough into ball. Generously coat a cotton towel with flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal; place the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with flour. Cover the dough with a cotton towel and let rise 1-2 hours at room temperature, until more than doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 450-500°F. Place the pot in the oven at least 30 minutes prior to baking to preheat. Once the dough has more than doubled in volume, remove the pot from the oven and place the dough in the pot seam side up. Cover with the lid and bake 30 minutes Then remove the lid and bake 15-30 minutes uncovered, until the loaf is nicely browned.

More about Jim Lahey and his "minimalist" bread method here


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