Bread was supposed to be this mysterious thing for so long. You had to pray that the little yeast balls are still alive, get the water just hot enough to maximize their growth without being so hot that it kills them all, wait for them to belch their magical gases so the dough can rise, punch it down and knead it for 30 minutes, do that seven or eight times, shape it into a loaf or whatever, and hope that you didn’t knead out so much air that it comes out looking like matzo.
Then a few years ago, someone said, nah, fuck that, just dump it all in a bowl and stir it a few times, and blammo, bread.
And it’s pretty good bread too! I mean, you couldn’t sell it in a bakery, but you could bring it to a party and people would think you worked all day on it, when in reality you just dumped a few ingredients into a bowl and then binge-watched Stranger Things.
The water temperature thing is a big deal too. You don’t have to get the water to a certain temperature, room temperature is just fine. A while back, I tried to impress my lady and make some cinnamon rolls, and I think the milk was too hot, because the dough didn’t rise a bit. And they tasted fine, but they looked like these sad little people (thanks PC police!) cinnamon rolls, and she patted me on the head as if to say “aww, that was a nice try, I still love you despite your failings”.
Ok, that was quite the tangent. Let’s get to the important stuff.
CAN I MAKE A MESS WITH THIS RECIPE?
Yes, there’s definitely room to make a mess.
YOU SOUND VERY NON-COMMITAL, ARE YOU SURE THIS IS WORTH MAKING?
Anything with flour has the potential to make a mess. It’ll get everywhere if you’re not careful, and you’ll be cleaning it up for years. And the dough is sticky enough that your hands are going to get pretty messy when you form it into a ball.
WAIT, I THOUGHT YOU SAID THERE WAS NO KNEADING INVOLVED?
You’re not kneading, but you do have to pull it out of the mixing bowl and then form it into a ball using your fingers. Hope that’s not too much to ask.
OK, I’M DOWN WITH THAT.
Good, because I’m writing this no matter what.
The recipe calls for instant yeast, I used active dry yeast, which is pretty much interchangeable for this recipe – if you’ve got either in those little yellow packets laying around, that should work fine. You’ll have plenty left over for multiple loaves.
No Knead Bread
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus a little for dusting
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 5/8 cups water
Cornmeal for coating the outside of the bread (probably no more than a handful or two – more flour would be fine as well)
In a 2 quart bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and yeast.
Add the water, and stir it together until it’s blended. Don’t worry that it looks like hell, it’s supposed to.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set it aside in the corner of a reasonably warm room (70 degrees or so) for 12-18 hours. Lean towards 18 – 12 is fine, I wouldn’t go over 18 though. I mean you can, but the bread gods may not look kindly upon that.
By the 18 hour mark, you should see a bunch of bubbles on the surface. See them? Good!
Pull out a cutting board, or clean off a surface on your countertop, and dust it with some flour (a couple handfuls or so – you want just enough flour so it doesn’t stick to the surface, but not so much that it’s going to dry out the dough). Carefully slide the dough onto the surface and fold it over onto itself twice. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Coat a cotton towel with cornmeal.
Dust the dough very lightly with flour (this is supposed to keep it from sticking to your fingers – accept that there is no way it won’t stick to your fingers, and you’re going to have club hands when you’re done). Gently shape it into a ball (you don’t want to squeeze our the magical yeast burp gasses), and lay it seam side down onto the towel. Dust the top with more cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let it rise for 2 hours.
30 minutes before baking, heat the oven to 450 degrees, and put a 6-8 quart heavy pot in the oven, lid and all. When you’re ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven and take the lid off. Slide your hand under the towel, and turn the dough into the pot, so it’s seam side up – don’t worry if you don’t get it perfect. Shake the pot a couple times to evenly distribute the dough.
Put the lid back on the top, and bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove the lid, and bake it uncovered for another 15-30 minutes, or until the top browns and it gives you a hollow sound when you tap it on top (please be careful and don’t touch the pot when you’re doing that).
When it’s done, pull the pot out and carefully remove the bread (I use a metal spatula to pull up the side enough that you can grab it) and place it on a cooling rack. Wait an hour or so before digging in.