No-Knead Artisan Bread

The day I learned to make this no-knead artisan bread, everything changed for me. Suddenly it was perfectly legitimate to spend a Saturday morning waiting anxiously for a perfect round boule to cool before splitting it in half and spending an hour in the library slathering it with endless combinations of butter, jam, and honey, looking out the window and reading and talking. This sounds unrealistic, I’m sure, but I promise you that you too can have this fairytale existence with nothing more than flour, water, yeast, and a lidded oven-safe pot.

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In its most pared-down form, this bread requires little else but time. You could even bake it on a cookie sheet if you absolutely had to. However, there are a few little tweaks to the basic recipe and equipment list that take this bread from magical to wondrous.

A good, enameled dutch oven is a the key to the perfect bake. Pre-heating the dutch oven inside of your larger oven helps to simulate a legitimate, old-timey bread oven. Giving the dough a 2-minute knead after the bulk ferment before shaping the unbaked loaf directly onto parchment paper helps to give it the perfect shape.

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But the single biggest trick I’ve discovered over the course of the past year and maybe a dozen or so artisan loaves? Using a razor blade to score the top of the bread just before baking. Seriously, the first time I did this as opposed to using a kitchen knife for the scoring resulted in the most beautiful, delicious, appealing bread I have ever made — and in our home, we pretty much only eat freshly baked bread.

So start this project on a Friday when you get home from work. It will take about five minutes of your time, and then you can go about your business of a cozy night in or a rowdy night out. Then sleep in on Saturday, lazily pre-heat your oven (and dutch oven) as soon as you get out of bed. Put on some coffee, put in another five minutes of work, and then pop that baby in the oven while you enjoy pot of coffee #1. By the time it’s done, you’ll need to make another pot of coffee to distract you from the smell of freshly baked bread while the loaf cools. Trust in the fact that it’s worth the wait to let it cool for at least 20 minutes rather than breaking it immediately apart with your bare hands — slicing too soon will result in a gummy interior as opposed to the lovely soft texture you’ll get with a little patience.

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I like to eat this plain, with slightly softened cultured butter and honey, with jam or jammy eggs, or even dipped into leftover ragu for a savory approach. This bread is best stored wrapped lightly in a clean dishcloth, but I highly doubt that it will last long enough to be stored at all.

Ingredients

  • 3 c all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp yeast
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • scant 2 c water

Method 

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until shaggy and sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise anywhere from 12-24 hours. The longer the initial rise, the more of an open texture the interior of your bread will take on. I like a closer, softer loaf, but this is a matter of personal preference.
  2. Half an hour before you’re ready to bake, pre-heat your oven to 450 F and place a dutch oven or oven-safe lidded pot inside.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead for 1-2 minutes before shaping it into a ball and placing on a large square of parchment. Cover with a large overturned bowl and rest for 30 minutes.
  4. Just before baking, make a deep X-shaped cut in the top of the load using a razor blade. Place the parchment and loaf into the dutch oven, cover, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until the bread is as golden-brown as you’d like it.

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Substitutions: I have successfully make this recipe using all whole wheat and half whole wheat flour. The flavor and texture varies, but all variations are delicious.

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