Let time do the work: No-knead bread

My favourite bread in the world is a pain ordinaire loaf from Pan Chancho in Kingston, Ontario. There’s nothing ordinaire about this bread. It’s big, soft and white with the most deliciously chewy crumb. For my family, a trip to Kingston always involves a visit to Pan Chancho and the purchase of a dozen or so loaves to keep the freezer stocked for awhile.

Because I find my results are never as good as a quality bakery loaf, I don’t often make my own bread. If I still lived in Kingston, I don’t think I would ever do so. But occasionally, when I’m a bit sick of cake, I decide to mix things up in the kitchen. Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread recipe from The New York Times has been on my radar for ages. It actually made the blogger rounds in 2006, so I’m about three years late to the party. But that’s no reason not to try it for myself, is it?

The concept is simple: a rustic white loaf that requires very little yeast, a long, slow rise (at least 12 hous) and no kneading at all. You mix up a very sticky dough the day before you want to bake, and leave it overnight or preferably longer. Then after turning it onto a floured tea towel and folding it over on itself a few times, you leave it for another two hours. After that you tip it into a hot cast iron casserole and bake at a very high heat for 45 minutes to an hour.

I was very dubious during the rising stage. My dough definitely did not double in size as it was supposed to. It kind of lay there, limp and listless and rather flat. But I soldiered on and a surprising thing happened in the oven. The sticky, lazy mass of dough did tranform itself into a pretty boule. The crust was too crunchy for my liking (my sister had warned me of this) but I didn’t wait too long before investigating the insides, which were better. The flavour and crumb were both very good, certainly as good any traditional bread recipe I have made. And the seasoning was perfect – there has been some criticism that this recipe doesn’t have enough salt, but I didn’t find that. Slathered in butter, it was a nice accompaniment to a simple Caesar salad for dinner.

My major piece of advice would be to flour the tea towel onto which you turn the dough, very very very VERY well. I did not and I ended up with hunks of dough clinging stickily to the towel as I tried to turn it into the casserole. Edward was terribly perplexed as to just what that was covering the soaking wet, gunk-coated tea towel in the sink the next morning. (Clean-up is not a forte over here at Let Her Bake Cake.)