No Need to Knead

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Lisa Parsley
Sunday, September 16, 2012

I thought I smelled a whiff of autumn brought in by a cool breeze yesterday. It was just there for an instant and then gone. But in that moment, I was saturated with memory smells of bonfires, pumpkin bars and freshly sharpened pencils. When I was a kid, I used to love this time of year—my pens were still unchewed, my folders, one color for each class, were still uncreased and undoodled, carefully labeled only with my name and subject. I had new stiff school clothes which I was able to pick out myself.

I think my love of order and making lists came from our annual trek to the store for school supplies. My mom would collect the official school handouts,(and with four kids, five years apart, there was a LOT to buy). In the store, we kids would run off like elves getting the job done.

“Two bottles of Elmer’s glue.”


“Colored pencils, one set.”


“A protractor and compass for your sister.”

“Um…what’s a protractor?”

It was a time filled with fresh possibilities to learn new things.

So now as we finally get to turn off our air conditioners, and sleep with fresh autumn chilled air blowing in from our windows, I once again want to turn to warming comfort foods of the season. And for some reason, in the past few weeks, I’ve had the urge to try making bread.

If you’ve followed my blog these past almost three years, you have discovered that I rarely, if ever, post baking recipes. I grew up in a household of baking—a week never went by where we didn’t have cookies or banana bread or something in the oven. But I drifted away from it as I started off on my own. Probably for two reasons, dealing with flour is messy—I usually get it everywhere. And also, if I bake a batch of cookies, I will eat a batch of cookies.

However, now my excuses are gone (as for problem one), I’ve invested in one of those huge glass jars that can hold probably 20 lbs of flour if you want it to; although I stick with usually 5 lbs at a time. I can “scoop and sweep” the flour in the jar itself, and it stays in the measuring cup and off my countertop. As for eating a whole batch of cookies…well, that’s what a family is for.

Lately I’ve been seeing recipes for “no knead” bread. I couldn’t help but think that surely someone must have thought of this before now. We’ve had, what? Two thousand years to work on our bread recipes? I’ll admit to being a skeptic.

But I’ll also admit that it does appeal to the lazy baker in me. The kneading part is, after all, the most tedious part of the process. (Even with my wonderful trusty Kitchen Aid mixer there is still work involved. It doesn’t clean itself, you know.)

All of the recipes I found online were variations of the same very simple ingredient list--flour, water, yeast, salt. The proportions were even very similar, but the amount of yeast varied from ¼ teaspoon to a full teaspoon. For my first try I went with the smaller amount and ended up with something that resembled a flying saucer—a hard flat disk, less than two inches high. The crust was a lovely golden brown, but VERY crunchy. The inside had a similar texture to a ciabatta—light and holey. It was not really good for sandwiches, but when I sliced it in half horizontally (like you would cut a cake in half to make two layers) it made excellent garlic bread.

For my second attempt, I ramped up the yeast to a full teaspoon and made sure I used slightly warm water. (My first batch was room temp, which I don’t think activated the yeast well enough.) I also put the bread in the (turned off) oven to rise instead of leaving it on the countertop. Success! A professional looking boule!

Here’s the thing to remember about this bread. Yes, it’s easy. But it takes time. The initial rise is 12-18 hours then you work with it a bit and let it rise for two more hours. Then it bakes almost an hour. So it is a bit awkward to manage the timing if you are away from home during the day. I found that if I knew I was going to be home (or in and out) on a Saturday afternoon, I would start the bread on Friday night around 6pm, and then noon the next day it would be ready for the next step. Bread for dinner Saturday night!

I feel like a pioneer woman. Stay tuned for my home made butter adventures…

Are you a bread baker? Have you tried this no knead method? Do you love Fall food like me?

No-Knead Bread

Slightly adapted from Mark Bittman, NYtimes.com, who adapted it from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery; see also Laura Calder’s recipe

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour

1 teaspoon instant yeast

1 teaspoons salt

1 ½ cups water

Additional flour as needed.

  1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add the water and stir until blended; dough will be somewhat sticky. Cover bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and let rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

  2. The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

  3. Again, flour your work surface—lightly this time, just enough to keep it from sticking. Shape the dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour and place the dough seam side down on the towel. Dust the dough with more flour. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. It is ready when it has doubled in size

  4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees and put in a heavy covered pot (an enameled cast iron Dutch oven is perfect) in oven to preheat. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, the dough will be very sticky and ugly. It will sort itself out in the oven.

  5. Slash an X on the dough with a sharp knife. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is browned. Cool on a rack.

Last updated: 10:46 am Wednesday, August 28, 2013

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