Baking bread. It’s such a fundamental, timeless thing to do. I’m always amazed when I make bread and it turns out well. I feel triumphant and vaguely historical. And yet it’s really pretty easy. Even easier with no-knead bread.
Years ago, in my shared-house student days, I often used to make bread. It took ages — mixing, kneading for 10 minutes or more, proving, kneading again, proving, then baking. And with a house full of hungry students who’d been smelling glorious smells for hours, the minute the bread was out of the oven it would be ripped apart, slathered with butter, and jam or my dad’s honey, and devoured. In seconds!
The pic below right is the sort of bread I used to make, though often I plaited it into fancy-looking twists — all the better to pull it apart while still hot, my dears. So there I’d be, almost a day’s work eaten in a flash, not a crumb left, my friends, full and happy, gone back to their studies, and I was left to clean up. Little wonder I soon got sick of making bread.
But in recent months, a friend put me onto no-knead bread. The picture at the top of this page is the loaf I baked this morning. It’s a brilliant recipe — it only takes a few minutes to mix the four ingredients and the rest is time — time you spend doing anything you like — in my case it was mostly sleeping, because I mixed the bread in the evening and baked it the next day.
The ingredients are simple — plain flour, salt, yeast and water — and you just mix them — not knead or beat, or process with a dough-hook — just stir together until combined. Next you cover it and leave it on the kitchen bench or the laundry or wherever is cool and convenient until the next day — at least 12 hours. (If the weather is hot, I’ll pop it in the fridge and leave it a bit longer.)
Next day pull out your dough —it’s a big sticky mess with a few bubbles — and shape it into a ball (I use a wide-bladed egg lift because it’s too sticky to handle). Then I plop it onto a sheet of baking paper, cover again and leave for an hour or so to rise again. Half an hour before you want to bake it, turn on the oven and slide in a dutch oven or cast-iron pot with a lid. To bake, you carefully place the dough on the baking paper inside the hot pot, put the lid back on, and bake for 30 mins. Then reduce the heat slightly and bake another 10-15 minutes with the lid off. The original no-knead recipe is here — he says to use a tea-towel or something similar, and drop the dough in, but baking paper (parchment paper) makes it so much easier. I sit the dough on the paper, then lower it, paper and all into the hot dutch oven. You can see in both my photos, the bread is still sitting on the parchment paper.
The toughest part of the whole process is that almost every recipe says to let the bread cool before you cut it. I haven’t yet managed to achieve that yet. But practice, they say, makes perfect, so we live in hope (though not much). I’m also told no-knead bread keeps well. I’m here to say it doesn’t. It gets eaten before it gets a chance to keep.
So try it out and see what you think.