Witchcraft essentially. Science actually. Since I stumbled upon this recipe two months ago, I’ve made bread more than a half-dozen times. It must have been over eight years since I last baked proper bread. Sure, some easy pizza dough there, a foccacia here. But not proper bread.
The first time I baked bread, I was 8 or 9 and followed a recipe from Owl or Chickadee magazine. It was a fairly intricate recipe with milk, many steps, and lots of waiting but at the end, bread! I loved the feel of kneading the dough. The soft resiliency of the dough as the gluten formed. The first loaf was denser and saltier than I expected but I was proud nonetheless.
A highlight of my childhood was the semi-regular trip to Buns Master Bakery after church on Sunday to buy fresh buns: kaiser buns, knot buns, cheese sticks. Despite that, like many North Americans I grew up mostly on packaged sliced bread. Preferably with the crusts cut off. It was light and fluffy but as for the taste there isn’t much to recommend it, other than the familiar nostalgic feeling you get when you make a peanut butter sandwich with it. Here in Germany, this bread is hilariously called “Toastbrot” despite my protests that any bread that is toasted is “toast”. I think they mean that the only time it tastes good is if it’s toasted. They might be right.
After that first Chickadee loaf, I made bread infrequently but often enough that it felt like something I knew how to do. In university, when I lived in Toronto, I had the luxury and fortune of living near some actual bakeries. At the same time, I occasionally dabbled in raisin bread from a recipe a neighbour gave me – thanks, Mrs. Willis! One loaf from this recipe once memorably and spectacularly failed to rise and was dubbed raisin “brick” by friends and roommates.
Mostly I love a tender, fluffy french bread, a beautiful baguette or a tuscan loaf, something that tastes heavenly with a bit of butter. Recently however, much to my surprise, I’ve started to appreciate the denser flavourful German bread.
Let’s face it, making bread takes time and the crust and crumb can be a bit of a disappointment. Enter no-knead bread. I discovered this recipe via Mark Bittman, formerly The Minimalist. It’s from 2006 but must have been making the rounds again recently. I see that bob also independently came across it. The secret of this simple recipe is the long rising time. Make the dough one evening, bake it the next. The only special equipement you’ll need is a heavy ovenproof pot. The easiest way to learn this method is to watch this video with Jim Lahey, who (re)discovered the recipe. Did you watch it? Go watch it. (I’ll wait here…)
Unfortunately, since this is no-knead bread, the tactile pleasure of kneading the dough is missing. But, the results and ease of this technique more than make up for this. The recipe is extremely tolerant. Once you’ve made the bread a few times from the recipe you’ll see. A little more yeast, a little more salt, less water, more water, more flour, less flour, you still get great bread. Each loaf I’ve made has come out with an even crust, wonderful texture and tastes great. After the first few loaves in my single too large cast-iron pot, I was so pleased with the bread that I went out a bought a second smaller pot just for making bread.
I’ve tried regular white flour, rye flour, whole wheat, with and without flaxseed, with flaxseed oil, more salt. This is my favourite combination at the moment:
2 cups rye flour
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup crushed flaxseed
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1/2-3/4 tbsp salt
1 1/2 cups water (and a bit)
Some wheat bran
The bread even gets German approval. (Hi Sebastian!)
Another secret – I’ve never waited the extra two hours rising time after wrapping the dough and I still get great bread. I discovered this on my own, but it seems like I’m not the only one to have figured out how to get faster no-knead bread.
Many have waxed lyrical about bread, and with reason. There’s something powerful and nurturing about bread. You need to try this recipe. It’s magic. And science.