A Recipe for Community: No-Knead Bread

Winter is on its way to Toronto.  The signs are here.  The last tomato flowers were brushed by frost last week.  The fair-weather runners have vanished from the streets.  Our cat has re-mastered her skill of sleeping under blankets.  And our farmers’ market has moved to winter hours, now only open every second week.  That means that the supply of amazing artisan breads from St. John’s Bakery has been cut in half.  And the rest of what our neighbourhood has to offer bread-wise is pretty dismal in comparison.  So rather than suffer with disappointing grocery store loaves, I’ve just started making bread again.

Making bread isn’t new to me.  As a grad student I made bread a lot, even keeping a sourdough starter for a while.  But my schedule was more flexible then, I often worked at home and could adapt my schedule to the rhythm of whatever bread I was making.  That isn’t the case now that I work a regular 8:30 – 4:30 job.  Add in a morning run, commute time, and making dinner and there isn’t much flexibility or time left over to accommodate most bread recipes.  Bread needs to fit my schedule, not the other way around.  And that is where this no-knead bread recipe fits in.  I can mix the ingredients before work, let it rise during the day, shape it for a second rise when I get home, cook dinner as it rises, and it bakes as I’m relaxing. Most of the work is doen by time.  The recipe has been around for a while and was introduced to me a few years ago by a friend in Kingston (who does a bread CSA).  And it wasn’t like it was from an obscure source; it was originally published in the New York Times.  So I am by no means that first who blogged about it (go ahead, Google “no knead bread” and be amazed by the reviews and variations), but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway. 

So why is this bread a recipe for community?  First of all, it is accessible.  There isn’t any complicated skill involved in getting amazing bread with this recipe.  You need to know how to stir, fold, turn on an oven, and wait for intervals along the way.  Kneading, which is the hardest and messiest part of a lot of bread recipes, is cut out of the equation.  Second, it connects us with our past.  Not that long ago, a lot of bread was made at home or locally in smaller batches.  And that is how it has been for most of the 10,000 years or so that people have been making bread.  The process of turning the basic ingredients of flour, yeast, salt and water into bread and witnessing the steps of that transformation has inspired and astonished us for millennia (like in Christianity, where bread represents the body of Christ).  And thirdly, this bread is one that you can share with your community.  Sure, you won’t believe this when you’ve devoured the first few loaves before they’ve had a chance to fully cool off.  But, as it becomes part of your routine, you will begin to share the bread you’ve made and the recipe with your community.  Enjoy!

No-Knead Bread – New York Times

Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. 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 towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. 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.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.