03 June 2011

A Crust Of Bread

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.” - Robert Browning

I must confess that I still haven't let you in on one of my passions and not because it is so simple and mundane but because I've been trying to keep it to myself, this love for baking of mine.

A house in which the stove is cold is not a home
My grandmother is known for saying that a house in which the stove is cold is not a home. She, as every grandmother in the world is the best cook you would meet. From salads to rabbit stews, she can do it all, no complaints, no whimpering, no failures. Grandma learned from her mother to bake. And, my God, she bakes the most amazing breads.

I remember once when I was in my early twenties she even pretended that I had baked a certain bread in front of the friends that have come to the Sunday dinner, while I had in fact just helped. I will never forget the shame I felt when they asked me about the proportions. At the time I had spent a lifetime looking at her baking - in the kitchen around her every time, helping. But I had never actually performed the whole ritual by myself so of course, I couldn't repeat neither the ingredients, nor the proportions. Thankfully, my obvious lack of knowledge went unnoticed but that day I promised myself to start baking.

The secret of life
So when several years later I started my own family, the urge to make bread quickly grew unbearable and I began with the experiments. The first breads were hard, thick and bland but my husband gracefully praised them and I am so thankful for his patience which helped me develop not only my baking but my creativity as well.  Cakes, cookies, muffins, pies, breads, scones, you name it, I went through it all with the passion of a young bride who had grown up with the belief that you don't hold the secret of life if you cannot bake your own bread.

In these times of exploration I stumbled upon a fabulous recipe which will make even a beginner look like a pro baker. It is the bread from my childhood and has the specific aroma and the amazing crust that you can get only in a small village bakery. You don't need to be a master chef to bake that bread, it is extraordinarily easy to prepare! So, here it comes, in all its glory, the recipe for no-knead bread, adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery, New York City!

But before that, another confession - I don't actually use precise measures, so most of my baking and cooking go with the flow, if you know what I mean; it is directly proportionate to my mood, so what I love about this recipe in particular is that it measures everything in cups. But don't worry, as long as you stick to the same cup throughout the whole process, everything should be fine!
Photo: steffanyf
No-Knead Bread
  • 3 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping dough
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast (such as Fleischmann's RapidRise brand)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt 
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons tepid water
  • Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed 

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 of the water and add the sugar. I always do that even with instant yeast, just in case. Then combine it with the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the rest of the water and stir until blended.

The dough will be shaggy and very sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let it rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18 hours, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles.
Turn it out on a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle it with a little more flour. Fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for about 15 more minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape it into a ball. Generously dust a cotton (not terry cloth) kitchen towel with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal, put the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another kitchen towel and let rise for 2 to 3 hours. When it is ready, the dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

At least 30 minutes before the dough is ready, preheat your oven to 230 degrees. Put a heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic; anywhere from 31/2 quarts to 6 or 8 quarts) in the oven as it heats. When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven. Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that's OK.

Shake the pan once or twice if the dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until the loaf is nicely browned. Cool on a rack.

Here is a very helpful video on the subject which will answer most of your questions but if you still have any, I am waiting for them!

Now tell me, do you like baking bread? Have you already tried this recipe and what do you think about it?


  1. I've never tried making my own bread but it doesn't look that difficult. I'll have to give it a try someday!

  2. I have never tried making bread but my Granny made the best homemade rolls. I need to make my house a home (most days my stove is cold:) I think I will try your recipe as part of Sunday dinner. Thanks for this post! It is making me think of helping in the kitchen. Have a great Friday!

  3. While my children were young, I baked bread every week. My favorite bread recipes were from the Tassajara Bread Book. It used to take the good part of a day (in between other tasks) to go through the steps, but I enjoyed it, and the bread was fabulous.

  4. Bread making may not be difficult but it does take a special knack and a good bread maker develops a "feel" for the dough. Looks like you've got that feel and have been elevated to the status of Bread Maker Extraordinaire. :)

    All I end up with when I make bread are sticky fingers. But I whole heartedly have to say that there's not much that tastes better than fresh baked bread, still warm from the oven with a dollop of melting butter spread across its surface. Mmmm, just the thought has my mouth watering. :)

  5. Baking bread? Gulp!! First I need to master cooking:):)

  6. I love to bake bread! There is nothing like the aroma of freshly baked bread! When time is short, I often cheat and let the bread machine make the dough, then shape it for the last rise and then into the oven.

  7. I used to bake bread a lot, but not so much in recent years. This is definitely making me think it is time for lunch. 8-)

  8. I wholeheartedly recommend to all of you, who have long stopped or have not yet tried to bake to go ahead and bake a bread this weekend. There is such magic in the process, I am sure it will bring many new creative ideas to you!

    Almost Precious, you are so right, butter on fresh baked bread, mmmmmm, now I want to bake some!

  9. Wow, just one more thing we have in common! :) I love to bake, I find it soothing and the rewards are so wonderful!!! This bread looks delish, but since we are gluten free, I can only look and admire your lovely loaf. :) I love to experiment, and actually coming up with a gluten free bread recipe that we all love took great perserverance (and imagination!!!) The stove is rarely cold in my home, I'd make your grandmother proud. ;)

  10. My mom used to make fresh bread all the time. I'm not much of a baker, but this recipe looks like something I can handle. (And delicious!). Thanks for sharing!


  11. I love to bake bread! This looks like a great recipe, I love the simplicity of it. I like making my own bread because I know what goes in it. I use good organic flour and it's also fun to add your own stuff, like cheese or herbs and spices. I am going to try this recipe, thanks!

  12. I love baking all kind of breads. And I love trying new recipes. The no knead bread is on my "to do" list :)
    Thank you for the recipe and video.

  13. I cook a lot, but have not really tried baking much. That bread looks great, so I think I have a new weekend project!

  14. Thank you all for the comments, I am so excited that you love the recipe and I truly hope I will see some photos after this weekend!

    Jessica, I love adding stuff to my bread as well, f.ex. olives, or sun-dried tomatoes, have you tried?

  15. I love baking bread, and when I have to buy store-bought bread, my kids whine about it!! I've made no-knead bread before & it does come out great, I was surprised.

    I have to write bread making on my calendar now, I bought some sourdough starter and I have to remember to do something with it at least once a week - usually it's been pancakes. This week I'm going to try adding some semolina flour to my regular loaf recipe (not the sourdough), I hope it comes out good! But, even my failures, the kids still like it, I'm pretty lucky.

  16. Tamdoll, you are one lucky mama indeed! But I am sure that your failures are still tasty!