I was going to write a post about bread. About how I love the smell of fresh baked bread and how nothing else reminds me of my grandfather and working in his bakery like that smell. I was going to do that and then my oven conked out. It died right while I was baking a loaf of bread.
When my oven started beeping and showing signs of distress I immediately called my neighbor to see if I could borrow hers. She said yes as she is very kind and always willing to help out with my baking experiments, especially the eating part. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished and this time she was punished by having a hole burned in her entranceway rug. After I finished baking the bread, I, in a moment of mental lapse, set the hot pan down on her rug while I got on my shoes. Melted my pan right to it. Needless to say she got the bread…and a new rug.
When all of this happened I was trying a new recipe I found at Honey and Jam. As it turns out, this bread is great. It is easy, no kneading, very little wait time and the result is a wonderful crusty loaf.
Prior to finding this recipe I had been making Michael Smith’s No Knead Bread. It always turns out a very nice crusty but chewy loaf with a slight sourdough taste, but it takes about 18-20 hours to make, so you really have to plan ahead…and be committed to wanting that bread.
So when I saw a recipe for a similar style loaf in about a fifth of the time, I had to drop everything and try it. The bread had a great rustic look, a nice crusty exterior and soft interior and the whole thing took about 4 hours from start to finish.
Amazing, but what I really like about this recipe is that you use just part of the dough and keep the rest in the fridge for future use. When you want a fresh loaf, just pull off a grapefruit sized piece, let it rest for 40 min to an hour and bake it off. So in about an hour and a half you can have a great loaf of bread. That is worth giving up some shelf space in the refrigerator and the longer it sits in the refrigerator, the more of a sourdough taste it gets.
The recipe makes enough for 4-5 loaves and after that you can mix another batch in the same bowl and start over. You don’t even have to worry about cleaning the bowl because anything left inside will help kick-start the sourdough process.
No Knead French Bread
adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
by Jeff Hertzberg MD and Zoe Francois via Honey and Jam
3 cups of lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse salt
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Grab a very large mixing bowl, or a large container that you can cover. In it, mix the water, yeast, and salt. You don’t have to heat up the water to a precise optimal temperature for the yeast. I’ve even used just regular tap water, and it’s worked well for me. Just let that sit together for a while (you don’t have to wait for the yeast to dissolve completely), then dump the flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon. You don’t need to knead this, and you’re not looking to make it come together into a dough ball. You just want everything mixed well, with no streaks of flour left, and you’re done.
Leave it in your container, covered (but not airtight, or it’ll pop), for a few hours (about 3-4). When it has risen and then deflated a bit, your dough is done. It’s ready to be used or stored in the refrigerator.
To bake the bread, just grab a chunk of dough, about the size of a grapefruit. Dust your hands with flour to help prevent sticking, and gently pull the sides of the dough toward the bottom, rotating the dough, until you get a roundish shape with a smooth surface. It should only take you about a minute or less to do this.
Put it on a cutting board that’s been dusted with cornmeal to prevent sticking, and let it rest for at least 40 minutes. No need to cover it. If the dough has been refrigerated, it helps to let it rest a little more, until it’s no longer chilled.
Twenty minutes before you are ready to bake, put a cast iron skillet (or a pizza stone) in the middle rack of your oven, and put a broiler pan (I used a cookie sheet) in the bottom rack. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Dust some flour on the top of your loaf, and slash the top, about 1/4-inch deep.
After twenty minutes of preheating, it’s time to bake. (You can put the bread in after 20 minutes, even if your oven hasn’t reached 450 degrees yet.) Slide the loaf onto the baking stone, and then quickly pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler pan. Then quickly shut the oven door to keep the steam inside.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until you get a nice brown crust. Remove and let cool completely, if you can wait that long.