December 5, 2012

Wonder Bread: Bakery Quality No-Knead Bread in 5 Minutes

Baking was not a big part of my abuela's repertoire in the kitchen. She was a master at Puerto Rican cooking and, where her favorite granddaughter was concerned, she was a short order cook--making whatever I fancied when I came home from school. If it involved pan, it was always on two bright white pieces of Wonder bread. I loved it then, but I have never bought it as an adult and it must be nearly 15 years since I've had it. Now, I make this incredibly simple, but delicious bread that I hope you try too.

The artisan, no knead bread phenomenon is a few years old, but it was new to me about two months ago. After reading about the recipe in the archives of one of my favorite home cook blogs [now you know what I do on Sunday mornings], I had to search out what many internet folks referred to as the original source: Jim Lahey from Sullivan Street Bakery. Mark Bittman interviewed him about this recipe for the New York Times in 2006 and the response was so positive, Lahey wrote a book in 2009: My Bread: The Revolutionary No Work, No Knead Method. I will need to buy this soon. I'm a visual learner, so I watched the video. Many times. It looked too easy to be possible. How could such basic ingredients and nearly no work on my part, produce something that looked so crunchy on the outside, moist inside, and visually perfect? That looked like wonder bread!

I have made this a few times with all white flour, all whole wheat, and a few different combinations. This recipe is the white to whole wheat flour ratio I like the best. Try it and experiment. You cannot mess this up.*

 Ingredients & Tools
  • 2 cups all purpose white flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 5/8 cups water
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • cornmeal for dusting
  • very large mixing bowl
  • cast iron pot with an oven-safe lid
  • plastic wrap

Mix all the dry ingredients together and add the water. At first, it will seem like there isn't enough water. Don't panic and don't add more water. Please trust me. I've already made this mistake for you.* Just keep gently turning the flour and it will come together. It will be very sticky.

You'll get a sticky ball of dough after about 90 seconds of stirring and you're done. I found it hard to believe that I didn't need to flour the counter and spend 15 minutes massaging dough, but this is why I call this the new wonder bread.

Put a piece a plastic wrap over the bowl and allow it to rise for 18 hours. I've let it rise for nearly 24 hours with great results. I made this dough at 9PM in about 8 minutes. When I'm not taking pictures of every step, this is less than 5 minutes of kitchen time.

Nineteen hours and a full night of sleep and day at work later, the dough has more than doubled in size, has gotten even stickier, and is dotted with holes--evidence of fermentation.

When I made this with all white flour, the rise was much higher; more than double than this combination of flour. Be sure to use your largest bowl.

Generously cover your hands and work surface with cornmeal. The gluten is sticky, so be prepared. Turn the bowl on its side and use your fingers to move the dough onto your counter. 

Fold the dough over four times. Think of it as having four sides and fold each side over on itself. Flip the dough over so the seam side is on the counter and the smooth side is up. Add some more cornmeal to the top and cover with plastic wrap. Every recipe I've read calls to cover the dough with a kitchen towel. I really hated this method. There just didn't seem to be enough flour or cornmeal that wouldn't create a terribly sticky mess. Some say the towel helps to get the dough into the dutch oven, but the plastic wrap works better for me. Experiment and see what you prefer.

After you've covered the dough, let it rise on the counter for 1-2 hours. It will about double in size.

My Jewish mama and auntie gifted me this beautiful and useful Le Creuset 5.5 quart dutch oven for my bridal shower this past spring. It is the most used tool in my tiny Brooklyn kitchen. The oval shape is so much more cook-friendly on the stove top and it's a workhorse. Now, you don't need a fancy dutch oven for this recipe. Any oven-safe pot with a lid will work, but it will need to withstand 500 degrees.

This is another place where I vary from the Lahey recipe. I bake the bread at 475 degrees. I've heard that ovens and their digital read outs are not always consistent. I was happier with the results at 475 degrees, so preheat your oven and your dutch oven. The dutch oven does not need to be buttered or oiled in any way. The bread won't stick. It's just another wonder of this bread.

This is probably the most labor-intensive part of the recipe. Once the oven and the dutch oven are preheated, remove the dutch oven and put it on your stove top. If you watch the video of Lahey and Bittman, he just opens the oven, slides the rack out, and drops the dough in. I couldn't do this in a safe way.  The oven is super hot, the dough is super sticky, and it just felt like an accident waiting to happen. I'm trying to prevent tears in the kitchen, here!

So, remove the dutch oven and get your nimble hands ready.  Remove the plastic wrap from the dough and very quickly slide your hand under it. The goal is to have the smooth side of the dough on the bottom of the dutch oven and the seam side up. This way, the seams crack while cooking and create pretty marks in the bread. I have not mastered this at all. In fact, I've been grossly unsuccessful in flipping the dough a few times and it doesn't make any difference in the baking. Honestly, I think the bread is pretty to look at every time and even better to eat.

Put the lid back on the dutch oven, put that back into your conventional oven, and bake for 30 minutes. Then, remove the lid and bake for an additional 15 minutes. This is when the crust becomes even crunchier. You will be amazed when you take the lid off.

After 45 minutes, you'll have this:

Arm your loved ones with soup or some extra saucy dish when you make this bread.

1 comment:

  1. LOVE LOVE LOVE!! May try this soon! Thanks for the awesome step-by-step!