Let me start by saying that I don’t bake. I don’t bake because I don’t enjoy baking. Every so often I’ll get a bug up my butt to try to bake something, and I will earnestly tie on my apron and toil away doing whatever string of precise and boring-ass steps are required. Halfway through I think to myself, “Oh yeah! Baking sucks!!” And then, nine out of ten times, whatever it was I had attempted to make doesn’t rise, or I forgot to set my timer and I have no idea how long it’s been baking and I can’t find a toothpick to check it so I have to use a spaghetti noodle, which breaks off inside… I can tell you that on more than one occasion, an entire sheet of burnt cookies has been wildly flung into the yard to be rained upon for a week and ignored by dog and crows alike. You’d think that having a kid would make me want to learn to bake, but now that I have a toddler who talks, I bake even less, because I do not want her to learn the words that come out of Mommy’s mouth when she bakes.
This recipe has been going around for a while, known as “slow bread” or “no-knead bread,” but my guess is that the only people whose interest might be piqued by it are people who enjoy baking, and are looking to try something new. It is a near miracle that I even attempted this bread, much less make it on a near weekly basis. And every time I make it, I’m like, “I FUCKING BAKED THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” It is truly divine bread. Crusty bread. Better than bakery bread. Amaze everyone bread. And it’s so ridiculously easy to make, I’ve even figured out some ways to play around with the recipe (which I will mark with a *).
I guess there’s some science to this whole baking thing, and the science behind the “slow” and “no-knead” factors of this bread has to do with the development of gluten molecules, which is what makes bread chewy and allows it to hold big airy bubbles. Usually, you knead dough (bo-ring!!!!) to get the gluten molecules to align, but with a wetter dough, the free-floating molecules align themselves. Ta-da! The “slow” has to do with the fact that the bread is started about 18-24 hours before it is baked, allowing yeast to naturally develop (which is why you only need ¼ teaspoon instead of a whole package), and allowing the gluten to go where it needs to go to do its thing. So baking this bread does require a bit of planning, but if you start it Sunday evening, you can have bread with your Monday night soup.
Oh yeah.. You’ll need a cast iron Dutch oven, because that’s how the crust gets so amazingly.. crusty.
If you hate to bake, I hope this recipe finds you, because you deserve the gratification of baking one, just one, damn thing that turns out right.
Here’s how you do it:
3 cups all-purpose white flour
¼ teaspoon of baker’s yeast
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
1 5/8 cups water
Mix the flour, salt, and yeast in a big bowl. Add the water. *This is where I play around a little bit. I have started adding about 3 Tbs of honey to my water before I add it to the mix. It gives a slight sweetness to the bread, and provides a yummy snack for my little yeast buddies.
Mix the dough well with a fork. Don’t freak out if your dough looks like a disaster. It will look shaggy and rough and sticky and you will wonder if you mistakenly were following a recipe for waffles. Don’t touch it unless you want to make a big mess of your hands. Just leave it… Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and stick it somewhere out of the way and warm-ish.
Wait 18-24 hours. Put a couple of handfuls of flour into another bowl. The dough will more than double in size, and appear to be even wetter than before. It is super sticky now, and you need to move the whole wad to the bowl with the flour. To do this, rub a spatula down with olive oil and scrape the whole thing out and into the other bowl. Don’t cry if your dough deflates.. I promise you are doing this right. Toss the dough around in the bowl, adding more flour if needed to coat the whole thing, and let it sit for 15 minutes.
Lay out a cotton dish towel.. not terry cloth but something smoother. Generously coat the towel with more flour, and transfer (plop!) the dough to the towel. Wrap the dough loosely in the towel, and move the whole thing back to the bowl. Set aside for another hour (or so). Check it occasionally to make sure it isn’t sticking to the towel. If it does stick, ditch the towel, put the whole thing back into the bowl, and set it aside to rise. Your dough is ready to bake when it slowly springs back halfway when poked with a finger.
When you are ready to bake, preheat your oven to a hot 450 with your Dutch oven inside. Allow your Dutch oven to heat up for about 30 minutes.
Gently ease the dough into the Dutch Oven. *If you wish, you can score the loaf (I found an X-Acto knife works well for scoring). Scoring allows the loaf to grow bigger, as it gives the crust of the bread more surface area as the bread expands.
*Coat generously with sea salt and rosemary. A lot of this will fall off as the bread is baked, cooled, and cut, so really pack it on.
Note: the sea salt I used on this loaf was Hawaiian Red sea salt. It was all we had, but it turned out lovely! It’s pretty coarse, so I had to grind it a bit. You can get it at your local Asian market.
Put the lid on and put the Dutch oven back into your oven. Let bake for 30 minutes at 450, then take the lid off and let it go another 15-20 minutes, or until beautifully browned.
When it’s done, let it cool on a towel. Listen to it… it crackles as it cools! Instagram it… you domestic beast! Smell it… you fucking baked it!
Slice and eat warm with butter and honey.