12th Day of HTCE: Jim Lahey’s No-Work Bread

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The just-released How to Cook Everything iPad App is spectacular (and I can say that since I didn’t develop it!). It’s something neither I nor anyone else could have dreamed of when I was first working on the book in the mid-90s.

To celebrate the launch I’m officially kicking off “The 12 Days of How to Cook Everything,” a countdown of the 12 most-voted-for HTCE recipes (based on an ongoing voting feature embedded in the App), one-a-day until new year’s eve.

It’s fascinating to me to see the recipes that people search for and come back to again and again: If you have any all-time favorites, post them in the comments section below, or just vote for them on the App.

Jim Lahey’s No-Work Bread

Makes: 1 large loaf

Time: Nearly 24 hours, almost completely unattended

This innovation—the word recipe does not do the technique justice—came from Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. Jim has created a way for home cooks (and not even ones who are serious bakers) to nearly duplicate an artisan bakery loaf, with a crackling crust, open-holed crumb, light texture, and fantastic flavor. All without kneading, fancy ingredients, or special equipment. A wet dough and slow fermentation are the keys to success, as is the baking method—a heated covered pot, which creates essentially an oven within an oven to trap steam as the bread bakes. This is the original, simplest version, though many people have tinkered with the formula since it was first published in 2006. I’m not kidding when I say the results will blow your mind. The only thing required is forethought. Ideally, you will start the dough about 24 hours before you plan to eat it; you can cut that to 12 and even 9 (see the variation), but you’ll be sacrificing some of the yeasty flavor and open crumb.

4 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus flour for dusting

Scant 1/2teaspoon instant yeast

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups water at about 70°F

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (optional)

Cornmeal, semolina, or wheat bran as needed

1. Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Add the water and stir until blended; you’ll have a shaggy, sticky dough (add a little more water if it seems

dry). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or put the olive oil in a second large bowl, transfer the dough to that, turn to coat with oil, and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for about 18 hours at about 70°F. The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Rising time will be shorter at warmer temperatures, a bit longer if your kitchen is 60–65°F.

2. Lightly flour a work surface, remove the dough, and fold once or twice; it will be soft but, once sprinkled with flour, not terribly sticky. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, gently and quickly shape the dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton (not terry cloth) towel with

cornmeal or wheat bran (or use a silicone baking mat); put the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with more flour or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel (or plastic wrap) and let rise for about 2 hours. When it’s ready, the dough will be more than doubled in size and won’t spring back readily when poked with your finger.

4. At least a half hour before the dough is ready, heat the oven to 450°F. Put a 3- to 4-quart covered pot (with the cover)—it may be cast-iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic—in the oven as it heats. When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. (Slide your hand under the towel and just turn the dough over into the pot; it’s messy, and it probably won’t fall in artfully, but it will straighten out as it bakes.) Cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the loaf is beautifully browned. (If at any point the dough starts to smell scorched, lower the heat a bit.) Remove the bread with a spatula or tongs and cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

No-Work Bread, Sped Up. Reduce the initial rise to 8 hours; skip the 15-minute resting period and just shape the dough as in Step 3. Proceed immediately to Step 4.

 

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Posted in Baking, Behind The Scenes

34 Comments

  1. Michelle Stiles said...

    I swear by this method. It was love the first time I made it!

  2. jeangogolin said...

    I love this method, but i replace the towel w/ parchment paper: I put the dough on it for its 2nd rise, lift it into the hot pot on the paper, and remove it on the paper when it’s done. Magic.

    • Anita Burns said...

      I just spray my cast iron Dutch oven with olive oil/lecithin mix from Trader Joes (it is like Pam spray) wipe it with a paper towel, the after the pot of heated, sprinkle on cornmeal, drop the dough into pot and bake. When done, I turn the bread out of the pan onto a brad board. The bread tumbles right out. Never has stuck.

  3. tigress said...

    How great! I can’t wait for the How to Cook Everything Vegetarian App comes out! 🙂

  4. Emilia said...

    I wonder if it is really necessary to use a “heavy” pot to bake this bread… Wouldn’t a bread pan also work?

    • Ester said...

      I’ve made it on a baking stone or a cookie sheet, sprinkled with cornmeal.
      It spreads out a bit, but you get all that yummy crust.
      I’ve also mixed herbs (rosmarie, basil, oregano) and grated Parmesan and then sprinkled it on the stone/heavy pot and on the top of the bread.

    • Trudy said...

      A glass bread pan would be heavy enough. The shape doesn’t matter as much as having an oven-proof lid with a snug fit—most bread pans don’t. Personally, I’d either avoid or watch baking time carefully for an irregular or oval shape, too, since the ends or small areas might bake faster at the high temp. We’ve done several riffs on this bread at our house, and the family loves it and someone always comments on it if I bake and take.

    • J said...

      You must contain the steam within the container (pot). This allows the dough to expand as it warms, because the dough stays moist and pliable longer. There is a bunch of interesting chemistry changes happing also.
      Then, with the lid removed, the browning takes place and excess water evaporates.

  5. Kathleen L. said...

    I used parchment paper instead of a towel. My bread came out flawless. I didn’t even think to use the parchment paper inside the pot — that’s a great idea. I only burned my hand once!

  6. Jan said...

    I make this often and it comes out perfect every time. Going to try it tomorrow using whey left over from making cheese! Yes, use a heavy pot, comes out super crusty. I use a very old, very heavy cast iron Dutch oven that has been in the family for ever.

  7. Donna said...

    This is a great recipe, been using it for years. Jim Lahey did not invent it. It’s a very old method. Been around for many generations.

  8. Penn said...

    You want a container with a lid, most bread pans don’t have those.
    My first attempt was too wet (my fault) and I used cornmeal which went everywhere (although it was tasty). Subsequent attempts have been even better after fixing those quirks.

  9. Jeff Barr said...

    I learned this years ago from Master Bakers Michael and Sandy Jubinsky, of Stone Turtle Baking & Cooking School in Maine. They also use coarse semolina instead of cornmeal, as cornmeal can burn and become bitter.

  10. BPH said...

    I realize this was posted a long time ago, but I just heard of an addition that makes the bread even more awesome than it already is. Stir a big, heaping spoonful of miso paste into the 2 c. water until it dissolves and then use that for the bread. Seriously, it’s even better than the original recipe.

  11. Rae ann said...

    Have a lodge enamel cast iron Dutch oven and instructions say not to heat empty, can I still use it

    • Joanne Eriksson said...

      The extreme heat has the potential to work on the enamel on the inside, so it can start to crack or chip. But I’m only missing one chip so far–and I use it directly on a flame(!) with a smaller cast iron pot inside–so i oil the spot after washing, the same as ‘seasoning’ a bare cast iron Dutch oven. The only REAL damage I did was using it directly on an electric element and the enamel melted and stuck on the burner!

    • Joanne Eriksson said...

      Here’s someone who uses their enamel Dutch oven in the BBQ to make their no-knead bread! http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-bake-no-knead-bread-on-the-grill-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-90955

  12. Mary Ann said...

    I’ve seen two different amounts listed for the yeast and water and a suggestion for using sourdough in different recipes. I cut the water by 1/4 cup and used my sourdough starter. Very wet dough, but I put it in my clay baker – looked beautiful when I removed to lid to finish it off. Only problem, I forgot to set the timer a second time – burned it.

    Is there one tried and and true recipe?

  13. Carol Murgatroyd said...

    What about using whole wheat flour? Would it work with whole wheat bread flour and could you even use regular ww flour? What about adding seeds or nuts etc?

    • Joanne Eriksson said...

      I’ve used whole wheat flour–either straight or half and half with unbleached ‘white’–and it’s great! A little heavier of course, but flavor makes up for it! Some freshly ground flour gives it even more flavour!

  14. Joanne Eriksson said...

    How about pizza? Here’s No-Knead Fennel Anchovy Pizza recipe: http://www.thekitchn.com/noknead-pizza-for-the-whole-fa-75299

  15. Rosette said...

    I just came across your recipe and made it using whole wheat or whole spelt flour. They were great and even my kids who never touch whole grains loved it. I have a few question, if you can help me with them. 1-I’m trying to use rye flour more than wheat/spelt. It takes longer to rise and is more dense, but it’s fine. Have you worked out a recipe? I’d like either 100% rye or close to it/ 2-I don’t have a Dutch oven and we don’t like round loaves. I keep a pan with hot water in the bottom of the oven to create steam. True, we don’t get the amazing crust but it’s still great. What pointers can you give me? 3-The last time I made it, the dough fell too much after that first shaping. What should I do if that happens? Thank you so much for bringing this recipe!

  16. Kate said...

    My 12 year old son loves to cook so we are going to give this a try this weekend though I think we might go for the shortened version to start with.

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