If you have been hanging out around Frugal Living NW for awhile, you know that I am a big believer in making food from scratch at home. With a few exceptions, I prefer creating something in my own kitchen to buying it in the grocery store.
Bread can be tricky, though. There is some stiff competition out there, and it is tough to replicate a commercial oven’s heat and steam in a normal home kitchen.
For the last several years, I thought that Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes was the best thing since, well, sliced bread. It was simple, and we were content with the results. That is, until last summer when our neighbor brought over a beautiful, delicious loaf of home-baked bread. We had to know her secret. One phone call, and she came back with the book, My Bread by Jim Lahey (Amazon).
We have been baking bread using this method ever since. I can count on one hand the number of times I have bought bread in the store since then, because I can now make an artisan-quality loaf at home for a fraction of the cost.
I am telling you, this is consistently the best bread I have ever made in my kitchen. Ok, enough gushing. Let’s make some bread.
The only changes I have made to Lahey’s method is to double the amounts and adjust the baking time and temperature to achieve a bigger loaf with a thinner crust. Oh, and don’t be put off by all these steps. This is totally possible for home bakers at any skill level. I wanted to give you the confidence to do this on your own. A concise recipe can be found at the bottom of this post.
The ingredients are simple: flour, water, salt, and yeast. My husband calculated this bread costs .74/loaf (using Bob’s Red Mill flour & Costco yeast).
Oh, wait! Don’t forget to factor in the roughly 8 cents of energy used to bake it for an hour. No, I’m serious. My husband really does think about this stuff! He’s funny. So, there you go. A whopping 81 cents for a substantial 2.5 pound loaf of bread. That is crazy cheap.
If you want to use some whole wheat flour, substitute 3 cups of whole wheat for 3 cups of the all-purpose flour (3 cups whole wheat and 3 cups of unbleached flour for a total of 6 cups) and add 3 Tablespoons of molasses (optional). This will produce a slightly sweeter, denser loaf of bread. Delicious.
Combine the dry ingredients, add the water, and stir to combine (the funky looking wood-handled item is the amazing Danish Dough Wisk — makes stirring stiff dough a snap). The dough should be wet and sticky. Depending on the temperature and humidity in your home, you may need to add a little more flour or water, 1 Tablespoon at a time. So far, these steps are exactly the same as the 5 Minute method.
The main differences are that you use significantly less yeast (1/2 teaspoon vs. 1 1/2 Tablespoons) and significantly more initial rise time (12-18 hours vs. 2 hours).
Once the ingredients are completely combined, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it on the counter to rise for 12-18 hours. This slow rise aids in the fermentation of the yeast, giving the bread a better flavor.
Ok, I know what some of you are thinking: 12-18 hours! That’s ridiculous! Who has that kind of time?! I get it.
However, here are two things to consider:
- Once you get into a rhythm of baking your own bread, it’s not a big deal. I start mine in the afternoon or evening and bake it the next morning or afternoon. This would also be an easy weekend routine.
- Just like the title claims, this bread requires no kneading. It is not fussy, temperamental dough. You can produce a delicious loaf of bread with very little hands-on effort & experience.
You’ll know your dough is ready when it has risen in the bowl, smells yeasty, darkened slightly, and is covered with small bubbles.
Using well floured hands, shape and tuck the sticky dough into a rough ball. You can also fold it over a couple times on a well-floured surface. It doesn’t have to be perfect; just keep quickly tucking the dough underneath with your fingertips until you have a semi-smooth dough ball. The dough should be wet but manageable; you don’t want a wet blob so sticky that you can’t shape it into a ball.
Take a clean cotton or linen (not terry cloth) tea towel and dust it with flour, cornmeal, or wheat germ to prevent the dough from sticking to the towel as it rises. You can also use a floured square of parchment paper on the towel to make the dough ball easier to handle. Place the dough ball, seam side down, in the middle and dust with more flour.
Cover the dough with the (parchment paper and) towel and let it rise for 1-2 hours at room temperature, until doubled in size. During the last 30 minutes of rise time, place a heavy lidded 6-8 quart pot, like a Dutch oven, in a cold oven and preheat it to 425 degrees.
Confession: I own 3 Dutch Ovens. I use them all the time. They are incredibly versatile and worth the investment. If you don’t own one, you could also make this in any lidded pot, provided it is oven-safe at such high temperatures. Also, check the knob on your pot. If it isn’t rated for such high heat, you’ll want to remove it or cover it with foil.
Okay, this is the trickiest part of the entire operation. Remove the lid from the piping hot Dutch Oven, slide your hand underneath the towel or parchment paper, and flip the risen dough (seam side up now) into the pot. Try to flip close to the pot or the flour will fly everywhere. Remove the towel or paper and set aside.
This might take a bit of practice, but again it doesn’t have to be perfect. Some of my worst flips have produced my most beautiful loaves. I love what Lahey writes, “…even the loaves that aren’t what you’d regard as perfect are way better than fine.”
Place the lid back on top and slide the pot back into the hot oven.
Bake it for 40-50 minutes. Remove the lid. Bake for another 5-10 minutes, until golden chestnut brown. The internal temperature should be around 200 degrees. You can check this with a meat thermometer if you’re nervous about knowing when your loaf is done.
Oh man, your house will smell so good about right now.
Place the loaf on a cooling rack. You will hear it crackling as it cools. Use every ounce of self-control to resist cutting into it until it is “quiet”; cutting it too soon will make the bread dense and gummy.
This bread is best the first 2-3 days. I just store my leftover loaf inside the Dutch oven on the countertop. Using plastic wrap will soften the crust. Dry, leftover bread makes great bread crumbs, toast, French toast, or croutons!
Enjoy. And pat yourself on the back. You just baked an amazing loaf of bread!
Basic No-Knead Bread
slightly adapted from Jim Lahey’s My Bread
6 cups bread flour (recommended) or all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/2 t. instant or active-dry yeast
2 1/2 t. salt
2 2/3 c. cool water
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the water and stir until all the ingredients are well incorporated; the dough should be wet and sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest 12-18 hours on the counter at room temperature. When surface of the risen dough has darkened slightly, smells yeasty, and is dotted with bubbles, it is ready.
- Lightly flour your hands and a work surface. Place dough on work surface and sprinkle with more flour. Fold the dough over on itself once or twice and, using floured fingers, tuck the dough underneath to form a rough ball.
- Generously dust a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with enough flour, cornmeal, or wheat bran to prevent the dough from sticking to the towel as it rises; place dough seam side down on the towel and dust with more flour, cornmeal, or wheat bran. Cover with the edges or a second cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours, until it has doubled in size.
- After about 1 1/2 hours, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a 6-8 quart heavy covered pot, such as a cast-iron Dutch oven, in the oven as it heats. When the dough has fully risen, carefully remove pot from oven. Remove top towel from dough and slide your hand under the bottom towel; flip the dough over into pot, seam side up. Shake pan once or twice if dough looks unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.
- Cover and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and continue baking for 10-15 more minutes, until the crust is a deep chestnut brown. The internal temperature of the bread should be around 200 degrees. You can check this with a meat thermometer, if desired.
- Remove the bread from the pot and let it cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.
Got questions? You are in good company. Go here for the complete FAQ list.
Here are a couple options for Dutch Ovens. Any heavy, lidded 5-8 quart pot (seasoned cast iron or enamel coated) would work with this recipe. Lodge has the best prices/options for dutch ovens on Amazon.
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