Let time and water do the work!
To call this a recipe for beginners/the lazy/cheats would be to belittle a long-fermented Real Bread that is ideal for people with arthritis or otherwise have difficulty kneading.
To bake, you will need some sort of thick, lidded, oven-proof container, such as a cast iron casserole dish or a Dutch pot. The result is a full-flavoured, chewy loaf, with a glossy, domed crust.
The inspiration for this Real Bread came from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York, via celebrated food writer Lindsey Bareham in The Times. Their antecedents stretch back through history and include Suzanne Dunaway, author of the 1999 book No Need to Knead.
500g wholemeal flour
400g water (at about 20°C but don’t fret over this)
50g liquid (100% hydration) sourdough starter
A little oil and extra flour
Dissolve the salt in the water and stir all ingredients together until they form a sloppy dough. If you are used to common home baking recipes, this probably will seem far too wet but worry not.
Cover the bowl (e.g. with a wet towel or reuse a plastic bag) and leave the dough to prove*. The dough is ready once it has puffed up in the bowl and bubbles appear on the surface, though it won’t quite have doubled in size, as is usually called for in bread recipes.
Oil a sheet of baking parchment** well and dust with plenty of flour. Push into a bowl that’s a little smaller than your cooking pot, trying to minimise the creases.
Get your hands wet to stop the dough sticking to them and scrape around the inside of the bowl to release the dough. Grab the dough from underneath at east and west, stretch out slightly until you have flaps long enough to push into the centre. Repeat from north and south. Lift out the dough and dump, flaps down, into the paper lined bowl.
Cover and leave to prove again for about an hour. About half an hour into this second proof, place the cooking pot (and lid) into the oven and crank it up as high as it will go to build up plenty of heat.
Slide the pot out of the oven and quickly but carefully remove the lid, grab the baking parchment by four corners and dump (paper side down) it and the dough into the pot, replace the lid and slide back into the oven.
After twenty minutes, remove the lid, turn the oven down to about 220°C and bake for another 20-25 minutes. This bread has a fairly high water content, so it’s safe to err on the side of a bit longer.
Remove the loaf from the pot and leave to cool on a wire rack – if you can bear to leave it overnight, the taste and texture gets even better. Remember to peel off the baking parchment before eating.
*The time it takes will vary, mainly due to room temperature and how frisky the starter is feeling. For example from the author’s experience:
In the fridge (3°C) – 14 hours overnight (using cold water)
In the kitchen (24°C) – 6 hours, while I was out shopping
On a cold day (18°C) – 10 hours, while I was at work
In each case, the starter had not been refreshed more recently than a week before and had lurked in the fridge until used.
**You might prefer to use a sheet of linen (or a clean, dry, untextured teatowel) into which you're rubbed lots of flour. If you do this, you need to sprinkle the top of the dough liberally with flour and then gently invert the dough into the cooking pot, rather than dump the cloth in with it.
Recipe text © Chris Young / the Real Bread Campaign
Reproduction prohibited without written permission of the copyright holder.
- The Women Erased From the Story of No-Knead Bread (Eater)
- Masterclass: how to bake your own bread (The Times)
- The Secret of Great Bread: Let Time Do the Work (The New York Times)
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Published 26 Jun 2014
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