The Best Rustic Bread Recipe - Irresistible & Effortless
I have been having a hard time getting into blogging over the last few weeks... the COVID-19 pandemic has been so overwhelming and, like many, I have experienced a lot of uncertainty as my office tries to figure out how to cope with the changes and orders to stay home. It has been overwhelming and stressful, but I know that I am beyond lucky to still be employed and have a safe place to come home to every night. One thing that has given me a lot of comfort during this time is a famous Mr. Rodger's quote: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers.' You will always find people who are helping." Seeing people, strangers, care for one another has been really heartwarming and helps me feel like we can make it through this together. Another thing that always brings me comfort is, of course, baking. For years I have been so envious of people who can make beautiful bread. After several half-hearted attempts at rustic bread making in the past, which have all turned out half-delicious, I felt like it's time to get serious about it. Now that I have some free time and more flexible baking hours with working from home, I decided to follow the famous New York Times recipe for No-Knead Bread by Jim Lahey. He claims that it's so easy that "even a 4 year old can do it," ...but can a 33 year old?
It turns out YES! I am happy to report that this was the easiest bread recipe I have ever made, and it turns out like the show-stopper, restaurant-quality fancy bread I've always dreamt of making. Here is the one catch for people in a rush (people like me): it takes 24 hours to make. Yes, you read that right. But don't worry, there is really only about 15 minutes of active time... the rest is just letting the bread dough do it's magical bread-making thing.
For whatever reason (well, probably the stress and lack of sleep mentioned at the start of this post), I made the bread dough at 11pm. It takes less than 10 minutes to mix together, and then I let it sit in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap, for 18 hours. I took it out of its bowl, covered it in a dusting of flour so it wouldn't stick, and then grabbed its four "corners" and folded it in on itself. Let rise 2 more hours wrapped in a dishtowel, then throw it seam-side up into a super hot pot to cook at 500 degrees for 30 minutes covered and then an extra 15 minutes uncovered.
Here are pictures of the main steps:
(The time between the 1st and 2nd picture was 18 hours)
It. was. divine. We cut it into slices and have eaten it with butter, with cheese slices, with olive oil and a pinch of salt (highly recommend), as avocado toast, dipped into some chili onion crush oil from Trader Joe's... the possibilities of enjoying this bread are endless. It would also taste great toasted and dipped into a hearty stew or along with a fried egg for breakfast...we will have to try that next!
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed (I did not use these; flour was fine)
STEP 1: In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
STEP 2: 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.
STEP 3: Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
STEP 4: At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450** degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
**NOTE: in a video made with Jim Lahey for the New York Times, he suggests using 500 or even 515 degree Fahrenheit oven for the bread. I used 500 and it worked for me!