Here’s a New Year’s resolution for you: start baking your own bread. Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, that you already spend some time in the kitchen. Even those of us who dabble in cooking, however, often find ourselves downright intimidated by bread-making. There’s something about working with yeast that seems foreign. Perhaps it’s because it has a language of it’s own- instant-rise, proofing, and so forth. Or perhaps it’s just the worry that things can go so terribly wrong so easily. When I first started baking bread several years ago, the loaves often and unpredictably came out incredibly dense or not entirely cooked through. It would be enough to defeat a perfectionist, however I was so undeniably impressed with myself (“I baked bread?! So what if it’s a little doughy and moist in the middle- all the better for toasting!“) that I kept plugging away at it.
Not until Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread recipe was published in the New York Times in late 2006, however, did I start to enjoy the process and make consistently terrific loaves each time. The super-simple “mix and let it sit” recipe seemed tailor-made to my somewhat lazy approach to cooking and the end product, a warm, crusty rustic loaf never failed to satisfy the carbohydrate-lover in me and impress less culinarily-inclined friends. Could it get any better?
Believe it or not, perfection can be improved upon, as evidenced by the advent of speedy no-knead bread, from the recipe found here on the New York Times website. The process is essentially the same, but by adding more yeast, the rise is accelerated, meaning that those who don’t like to plan their bread-making a day in advance can now complete the whole process in a long afternoon (nearly all of which is hands off time). I’ll admit I haven’t done a side-by-side taste test to see just how close the speedy version is to the original, but honestly, I can’t tell the difference from memory and that’s good enough for me.
No, it’s not as quick as running out to your favorite bakery and just buying a loaf, but this is infinitely more satisfying. For pennies a loaf, you can have warm, fresh bread with only a minimum of work. So have a little faith in your baking ability (it’s nearly impossible to screw this one up!) and give this recipe a try this weekend- can you imagine anything more delightful in the winter than the smell of baking bread coming from a warm oven?
Speedy no-knead bread (makes one large loaf)
3 cups bread flour (or all-purpose)
1/4 oz instant yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water
oil as needed
1. Combine flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups water and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest about 4 hours at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
2. Lightly oil a work surface and place dough on it; fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest 30 minutes more.
3. 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 dough and put it into pot, seam side up. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.
4. 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.