Recently, the lovely Steven Croft contacted me to get some bread chat about kneading. It was a really interesting question (to knead or not to knead) because, whilst I DO it, I am not sure why I DO it. I mean, I know the science of it. I know what happens while you knead. I know the result I get when I knead. I also know you can bake bread without kneading – something I do from time to time. When I review what I have written, however, whilst there are some recipes for “no knead” bread (the BEST being rye bread because it does not make a blind bit of difference to the end product whether you knead or not), they are mainly for different kinds of flat bread or “I am in a hurry” or “I hate kneading” bread and bread rolls. However, there is no recipe for real, genuine, no knead bread – until now.
I am not going to wet Steven’s gunpowder by telling you all about the ideas we exchanged – you can read all about them in an upcoming Real Bread Campaign publication, and I assure you the article will be interesting because HE is interesting. However, I did think I would officially put a “no knead recipe” on the Virtuous Bread website.
The undisputed modern master of the No Knead Bread method is Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery. I don’t have his book so I cannot say if the recipe below is his recipe or simply a recipe that I have adapted from the somewhat wetter “no knead”recipe I do for bread rolls, or the much wetter “no knead” recipe I do for focaccia, or the slightly dryer “no knead” recipe I do for pizza crust. So, If it is identical to anything in Jim’s books, I apologise.
The one thing you will need to get the crusty crust and springy crumb this recipe can produce is a cast iron casserole dish. You can bake the dough without it – don’t worry. But the cast iron casserole dish acts like an oven in your oven. The dough is trapped inside a small space where the steam it creates whilst baking (it’s a very wet dough) helps achieve a light crumb and a crispy crust. Without the casserole it is still seriously yummy – just a bit less crispy and springy. You can, by the way, use a casserole dish to bake any dough – kneaded or not kneaded – to the same effect. You can also, by the way, adapt any recipe to “no knead” with a bit of experimentation (more liquid, slightly different shaping techniques, slightly different shapes…). The one thing you need to accept is this: when you do a no knead bread (as opposed to a flat bread) the visual result is always rather rustic. If you want that – GREAT! If you don’t want that, this method may not be for you. It is only when you knead that your dough acquires a silky smoothness that will lead to a smooth, glossy crust in the final bread.
500 g wheat or spelt flour – whole or white or a mixture
375 g water
2.5 g instant yeast or 5 g dry active yeast or 10 g fresh yeast
10 g salt
dough scraper (makes it easier but it not necessary)
If you are using fresh or instant yeast, measure everything into a bowl and give it a good stir with a spoon, spatula or with your hands to mix it all together. Scrape any bits off the side to produce one big pile of dough and cover the bowl with cling film. Let it sit on the counter for 12-18 hours. If you are using dry active yeast, measure the flour into a bowl and make a well in it. Add the yeast and pour over the water to fill the well. Let it sit for 5 minutes to dissolve the yeast.
Then add the rest of the water and the salt and give it a good stir with a spoon, spatula or with your hands to mix it all together. Scrape any bits off the side to produce one big pile of dough and cover the bowl with cling film.
Let it sit on the counter for 12-18 hours. For more about yeast, have a wee look here.
Scrape it out of the bowl and onto a floury surface.
Do your best to get the blob into a somewhat tighter ball shape, trying not to squeeze or push the air out of the dough. It’s hard to describe how to do this and I wish I could magic up a camera person for you, but I cannot so, here goes:
Push the scraper under the dough on one side and then gently hold the dough onto the scraper, pull it out from the main blob and fold it back over the remaining blob of dough – your blob is smaller and you have “stacked” the dough up a bit. Repeat this action all around the dough blob – pushing the scraper under, stretching and folding the dough on the scraper back onto the blob. Just go around once so the the dough has all been “folded” one time.
Now, push the scraper right underneath the dough and turn the whole thing over. No more flour – no No NO.
Cup the edge of the dough furthest from you with both hands and pull it toward you. The flour that was on the counter will have stuck to the dough and now that you have flipped the dough over, the top and sides will be floury. Try not to get your hands trapped under the dough but see how the dough kind of wraps itself around itself as you pull it toward you. You need a non floury surface to do this or else your dough just slides on the counter and does not wrap itself around itself.
Pick up the dough, give the dough a 1/4 turn, move it away from you, and do it again.
Repeat the action until your dough is rolled up into a rather tight ball. Now, using the scraper again, transfer the dough to a large piece of non stick parchment, flour the top, cover it with a tea towel and wait.
TIP: with a measuring tape, measure your casserole from the top, down the side, along the bottom and up the other side. Make sure your paper is as big as the internal surface area of the dish. You don’t need paper at all, you can use some semolina or polenta on the bottom of the dish to prevent the dough from sticking but I found I could not get the dough into the casserole without burning myself unless I dropped it in from a high height, hence forcing all the air out! (There’s a tale). So if you proof the dough on paper, you can just pick up the paper and lower it in. No burning, no dropping.
Put the casserole in the oven and turn the oven on to 230 degrees. It will take your oven AGES to warm up with a huge iron casserole in it so you may as well go have a chat on the phone with your friend or your mum or a chatty person while you have several cups of coffee. Or do the ironing.
When your oven is up to temperature, remove the casserole dish and take off the lid. Pick up your dough ball, using the edges of the paper and gently lower it into the dish. Cover it and return it to the oven. Turn the oven down to 200.
Bake the dough for 30 minutes and then remove the lid and test it. If you have a probe thermometer, stick it into your bread – when it is done, the thermometer will register 98 degrees C. If you don’t have a thermometer, remove the bread and tap the bottom. If it sounds hollow and the bottom crust feels “thin” it’s done. If not, pop it back in the oven (don’t bother putting it back in the casserole, just pop it right on the shelf, and bake it for another 5 – 10 minutes and test it again.
Let cool completely on a wire rack.
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