I realize that I am about a year and a half late to be posting on the topic of the no-knead bread, but I’m excited about it, so I’m writing about it anyway. Cook’s Illustrated recently put their noses to the grindstone to attempt to improve the sometimes unpredictable results. I combined some of their findings with Clotilde’s legworkin the American-to-French kitchen conversion department to come up with a workable recipe for my own Parisian apartment kitchen.
The major question (and a valid one) is: why bother baking bread when you live in Paris and can walk to half a dozen bakeries in 3 minutes? Well, because I enjoy it, for one. I love the magic of bread making. You start with flour, salt, yeast, and water, and end up with something that is much greater than the sum of its parts. There is something immensely satisfying about pulling a fresh loaf of bread from your oven. Yes, it takes time, but doesn’t that then justify cutting an extra slice or two, slathering them with salted butter and devouring them with abandon? Hey, you’ve earned it.
So the no-knead bread appealed to me, not only because of the lack of physical effort/Kitchen Aid ownership required, but because I actually have all the necessary equipment in my kitchen! Bowl, wooden spoon, scale, Dutch oven. That’s about it. I suppose you could get away without using a scale, but it really is a more accurate way to measure things like flour and salt.
Anyway, the day before you want to eat the bread, make the dough. I used 320 grams of organic T65 flour (unbleached all-purpose is probably the closest American equivalent), 150 grams of whole wheat flour, 10 grams of sea salt, and 1/4 teaspoon (eyeballed) of instant yeast. I moistened this mixture with 350 grams of room-temperature bottled water (yes, I weighed that too). The dough seemed a little dry, so I added a bit more. I was looking for a shaggy ball of dough to form, which it did. I left it in the bowl, covered it with plastic wrap and a dishtowel, and placed it in the coolest part of the apartment. I let it sit for about 18 hours while the yeast did its thing.
Here it has approximately doubled in size, and you can see many small bubbles on the surface. The dough was quite wet, but not unlike other bread doughs I’ve worked with in the past. I heavily floured a cutting board and dumped out the dough.
I’m tempted to refer to this as a poolish*, although technically a poolish would not be a complete bread dough, as this is. Of course, what I don’t know about the intricacies of bread making could fill many books, I’m sure.
At any rate, with well-floured hands I formed this dough into a rough rectangle and folded it in thirds. I rotated it 90 degrees and folded it in thirds again. I returned the dough to the bowl, replaced the plastic wrap and dishtowel, and waited another hour. The folding process was repeated and another half-hour rest period ensued. One more set of folds and this time I lined the bowl with a clean towel** and placed my lackadaisically shaped loaf inside to proof.
At this point I began to heat the oven to 230 C with my Dutch oven inside. Half an hour later, the oven and pot were hot and the bread was proofed. I used the towel** to transport the dough into the pot and attempted to cut a few decorative slashes into the top of the bread. So right before going into the oven, it looked like this…
I put the lid on the pot and put it all in the oven. After 30 minutes I removed the lid and continued baking for another 15 minutes. I could tell it was done from the irresistible smells emanating from the kitchen. And when I finally pulled my bread from the oven?
Gorgeous. But then isn’t that what parents always think about their children? I knew I wouldn’t be able to wait to cut into it, so I left the house to run errands. When I returned, the bread was cool and I dove right in.
Now, where’s the salted butter?
*If I was smart, I would have saved a chunk of the poolish in the fridge to add to my next batch.
**I do not recommend the towel method. If you look closely at that last photo, you can see fuzz on the bottom crust where the bread refused to let go of the towel. Next time I’ll use parchment paper.