11 April 2011

Crusty Bread Heaven

I know the name of this blog is "Grow, Knead, Pickle and Sew", but for my first bread-related blog I just have to tell you about the greatest-ever-no-kneading-necessary recipe!

There must be a thousand recipes for "no-knead" breads floating around on the internet, and I have tried most of them. Along about the millionth try I gave up hope that any of them would truly produce a palatable loaf (except beer bread, but that's a whole other post!) Until now. I came upon the 2007 New York Times adaptation of Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François' recipe for "Simple Crusty Bread" from their book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. They also had a recipe for "No-Knead Bread" by Jim Lahey published about a year earlier. When these two recipe's are combined, oh man! The resultant loaf is perfectly golden and crunchy on the outside, dense but fluffy on the inside. There are lovely air pockets to catch your melting butter but most of the inside is reminiscent of the best Italian loaves. You know the ones. The kind you keep dipping in olive oil until you look up and can't believe the entire loaf is gone. And that's exactly what I did when this loaf came out of the oven. Who knew that simple could really be better?

The key here is that the dough must be left alone to ferment for a good amount of time. The Simple Crusty recipe only has the dough rising for 2-5 hours. There have been critics that say the quicker rising time leaves the bread with a bitter, overly-yeasty flavor. I don't know because I let mine rise much longer both times I've made the recipe. On my first try I stuck with the NYT recipe that calls for only using all-purpose flour. Incredible. For my second try I used 3 cups of bread flour and 3 1/2 cups of all purpose thinking that it couldn't possibly not be better with bread flour. I was wrong. The texture skewed toward sandwich bread instead of luscious Italian, and the crust lost some crunch after cooling. So my recommendation is to stick with all-purpose, as unlikely as that sounds. 

As for storing the dough, it works wonderfully.  I've stored the dough in the fridge for up to a few days and the freezer for about a week, and both baked up perfectly. If storing in the fridge, allow the dough to rest for about an hour before shaping into a ball and letting rise for another 40 minutes. If freezing, I would recommend letting it thaw in a warm spot for a few hours. Once it is completely thawed let it rest for another hour, then shape and rest as above. I found that as it thawed it spread out on the cutting board. Then as it warmed and rested it rose to about double its size. 

The other adaptations to the recipes that I've made are to cut down the salt a bit (so if you like your bread more salty, then increase my amount by 1/2 tsp), to divide the batch of dough in three instead of four loaves, and to bake on parchment paper on an overturned baking pan (because I don't, gasp, have a baking stone). I also used a rising time that varied between 8 - 20 hours. I feel that a rise on the longer side, 12-15 hours, is fine because we're using quite a bit of active dry yeast as opposed to the smaller amount of instant yeast from Lahey's recipe. He also calls for up to 20 hours. 

(Click through for the recipe!)

Crusty Bread Heaven
Adapted from Jeff Hertzberg, Zoë François' and Jim Lahey
Makes 3 loaves
  • 1 1/2 Tbs active dry yeast (not instant!)
  • 1 Tbs + 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 cups water at room temperature
  • 6 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Put the water in a large mixing bowl. You'll want to use your largest bowl to allow for ample rising.

Sprinkle yeast and salt on the surface of the water and stir in slowly.

Add flour and stir until just mixed. You want any dry patches to be incorporated, but don't overmix. The dough will be lumpier and stickier than you think it should be.

Cover with a towel or other porous covering - in other words, not plastic wrap or an airtight lid. You're looking for fermentation and incorporation of airborne yeasts to supplement the active dry yeast.

Let dough rise for 8-20 hours. 

At this point the dough should have at least doubled and have a bubbly appearance. The usual trick of poking to see if it rises back up isn't necessarily good for this recipe because the dough is very sticky. 

Sprinkle flour on the surface and use a very sharp or serrated knife, also floured, to cut 1/3 of the dough out in one section. Re-flour the knife after each cut, as the dough will stick to it.

With floured hands, turn the section of dough out onto a sheet of parchment paper or well-floured cutting board.

Form dough into a ball by lightly stretching it then folding and tucking the two ends under. Sprinkle with flour as needed to make the dough handleable. Place on the parchment paper or cutting board with the seam down. Cover with a towel and let rest for about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, pre-heat your oven to 450F. If you have a baking stone, put it in the oven for at least 20 minutes before the bread. If not, place a baking sheet turned upsidedown on the middle rack  to pre-heat and place a small pan of water (like a bread pan or pie pan) on the bottom rack. This will create steam and help your bread form its crunchy crust.

After the 40-minute resting period, sprinkle the top of your loaf with flour and use a very sharp or serrated knife to make three parallel slashes across the top. They don't need to be more than 1/4" deep.

Carefully slide the parchment paper with the dough onto your stone/baking sheet. If you don't have parchment paper, sprinkle flour on the pan before placing the dough. This method works fine, but you will end up with burnt flour around the bread. It doesn't affect the bread itself.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until the crust is a golden brown and the loaf gives a hollow sound when thumped. Let cool (if you can stand it!) before slicing.

Meanwhile, slice your remaining dough in half, shape each section into a ball as before on a floured surface. Wrap in plastic wrap and store in the fridge if you plan to bake another loaf within a week or in the freezer if longer.

If you prefer smaller loaves you can divide the dough in 4 instead of 3. I prefer 3 larger loaves because, well, my self-restraint just isn't that good!


  1. Found my way here from xoJane- and pinned your recipe! It sounds even tastier than s.e.'s! :)

    1. Thanks Sarah! It is delicious. Since I wrote this post I've made the recipe tons of time, sometimes with whole wheat or rye mixed in, and I've used the recipe for pizza dough too. Always tasty and so, so easy!