A few weeks ago, I read the article on No-Knead Bread by Mark Bittman with interest and a vague sense of disbelief. His claim, that it was possible to make artisan quality bread with a dense toothy crumb and a substantial professional crust at home, seemed like an impossibility. I was curious enough to try it out, but I lacked a 6-8 quart pot that was oven safe at the 450 degree temperature that the recipe called for. Even though I didn’t have the proper tools at the time I clipped the recipe and saved it for a day when I would have such a pot in my life.
The claims in the article were sufficiently seductive that I was thinking about the possibility of bread even as I was shopping for Betty. As soon as the family left town and I recovered from our still-to-be discussed cookie baking marathon, I had my yeast out and ready. Part of the attraction of this recipe is its total simplicity. A few ingredient, a wet dough, a long 18 hour slow rise, a brief shaping then a two hour second rise all add up to very little active time in the kitchen.
This recipe has taken the blog world by storm so I had a lot of useful tips to incorporate into my first attempt, which I am sure made it more successful. While the New York Times printed recipe calls for 1 5/8 cups of water, the accompanying video only called for 1 1/2 cups, and many people indicated that the dough was too wet with the 1 5/8 cups. A few people commented that the bread was bland, so I added 1 Tbs raw sugar and upped the salt to 2 tsp. Many people noted that the bread stuck to the towels during the second rise, so I used very flat weave cotton dinner napkins, and rubbed flour into them before dusting them with the cornmeal.
The other problem that some people seem to be reporting is that the bread is too doughy, even when cooked to 210 degrees internal temperature. This complaint seems to be coming exclusively from people using 4 and 5 quart pots, so it may be worth reducing the size of your loaf or getting a larger pot. There has also been some discussion that cutting a few slits in the top helps the steam escape, so I did that as a pre-emptive measure.
What is not to love about this bread? It has that thoroughly tough, lightly crispy and difficult to cut exterior crust. The crumb is slightly tangy, moistly chewy and resilient. It looks beautiful with a crackled golden brown crust and lovely irregular bubbles. It has all of the textural elements that bread should have and it looks like it came out of a professional oven.
While this may not be as exciting to those foodies who have the good fortune to live near good bakeries, I can tell you that it is a godsend to someone living in Durham, NC. There is no comparable artisan bread available anywhere in town, and one bite of bread convinced me that I was deluding myself that the bread I could buy was “pretty good.” It pales in comparison.
I can’t wait to get back into the kitchen to start trying out variations.
There are several links to the recipe in this post. I felt uncomfortable reprinting the recipe without permission, but I would be happy to email it to you if for some reason the links don’t work.