The past few months, my cooking has changed. It’s not that I’m cooking any less often, it’s just that my cooking is much more opportunistic (last week’s post is a perfect example) and limited in scope. Fettuccine Alfredo. Spaghetti Carbonara. Grilled flatbread topped with whatever’s getting old in the refrigerator.
I gaze longingly at my long-neglected recipes for homemade gnocchi, brioche, and other favorites that require patient, loving, or sustained attention. I check out Bon Appetit’s Fast, Easy, Fresh cookbook from the library, and even these recipes seem overly time consuming. I miss long, leisurely days moving about the kitchen, but cooking just doesn’t rank very high on my priority list at the moment.
Thank goodness for no-knead bread. The only drawback is the flip side of its greatest strength. The recipe is so simple, it’s easy to forget to make it. More often than not, I’ll climb into bed, read a little bit, and it hits me. Ugh. I forgot to make bread. It happens so frequently, I’ll just heave a sigh and say, “Shoot.” And my husband will say, “Oh. Yeah. We forgot to make a bread.” He’ll put on his robe, go downstairs into the kitchen, and mix the dough. It takes under five minutes, but still . . . what a guy, huh?
If you haven’t tried Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread, what are you waiting for? It’s the best, crusty, old-world bread you’ll ever make at home without 1) perfecting old-world techniques and 2) owning specialized equipment. We make a loaf at least once every week or two, and if you buy Lahey’s book, you’ll find endless variations on the original loaf.
It takes just a few minutes to make the dough, then it rests overnight. The next day, you shape it, let it rise a bit, then bake in a very hot oven. It couldn’t be easier — just remember to make the dough before you go upstairs to bed. Or marry a really good guy.
Adapted from Jim Lahey, My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.