Dwight's No-Knead Artisan Bread

This bread is inspired by the process demonstrated by chef Jim Lahey, owner of the Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan. It's described in a 2006 article in the New York Times and is probably vastly superior to my version, but I was never able to make his recipe work for me. It just turned into a sticky, gooey mess. Article | Recipe

So after some experimentation, I came up with this process that I find utterly foolproof (depending on the fool - I do have a tendency to forget to set the oven timer...). My description may seem complicated, but really this is the EASIEST bread I've even made. Too easy to ever spend money on store bread anymore. Here it is in a concise description, followed by the full process below:

**WARNING: The dutch oven will contain 400 degree steam. Be VERY careful when removing the lid to avoid being scalded by the escaping steam.**

IN A NUTSHELL:

Actual total hands-on time: About 5-10 minutes. Makes 2 loaves.

Thoroughly combine flours, yeast and salt.

Add water to flour mixture and stir enough so that the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Divide in half and place in separate covered bowls for at least 8 hours.

Preheat oven with dutch oven and lid to 400 degrees.

Sprinkle bottom of dutch oven with cornmeal and a pinch of flour.

GENTLY turn the dough of one loaf into the dutch oven and replace lid.

Bake for 30 min.

CAREFULLY Remove lid and bake for another 15 min.*
**WARNING: The dutch oven will contain 400 degree steam. Be VERY careful when removing the lid to avoid being scalded by the escaping steam.**

Remove bread to cool on a wire rack and repeat baking with the second loaf.

THE DETAILS:

The secrets to this bread are time and a dutch oven. The yeast does all the work and you don't need much. I use about a tsp or half a packet. Some people use less. But you have to give it time to work. I usually mix up my bread on Sunday morning and bake it in the evening. It makes 2 good loaves, which supplies my personal bread needs for the next week or two. The dutch oven traps the moisture and gives the bread that crusty chewy artisan texture. After mixing the ingredients, you want to handle the dough as little as possible. Let the yeast do it.

Ingredients:

* The rye flour is absolutely key to the rich flavor of this bread. I buy it from the bulk bins at Good Foods Co-op. An all-white bread works, too. I tried using whole wheat or other grains, but they don't do much for flavor. Don't mess with perfection ;)

**I heard on America's Test Kitchen that they use only "rapid rise" yeast because they found that the only difference was that regular packaged dry yeast is mostly inactive. So I use that now, too, but it doesn't seem to matter much with this recipe.

Mix the dry ingredients (including the yeast) together in a large bowl. I use a large whisk to make sure it's thoroughly combined. I used to mix the yeast with the water separately, but somewhere I heard it's better to mix it in with the flour and it does seem to work better.

Add the water and stir until all the flour is evenly moist. Do not use a mixer or knead the dough. It might be a bit sticky, which is good. Shouldn't be too dry. But it also shouldn't be too wet.

Divide in half and set aside in covered bowls for 8 hours or more. Overnight is ok. Up to 12 hours is fine. Can even be refrigerated for a couple of days if your plans for the day change. I put the two halves in large plastic mixing bowls with snug lids. You don't want them to sit in the air that long or they'll dry out.

At least a couple of hours before baking you can stir the dough a bit if you want. I find that it helps develop the gluten and gives a more coherent ball of dough, but it's not required. You want to manipulate the dough as little as possible so it keeps the nice big bubbles. To make it easier to turn out into the dutch oven later, it may be useful at this point to put the dough on a sheet of parchment paper in the bowls. I haven't tried this, but it seems like a good idea since otherwise you have to scrape the dough out of the bowl, which can make it lose a lot of its airiness.

Preheat oven, including the dutch oven and lid, to 400 degrees. Sprinkle some cornmeal and a bit of flour in the pot first to keep the dough from sticking. The tricky part is gently dumping the dough into the hot dutch oven. (Lahey dumps it out onto a floured towel to transfer it in a sort of hammock. I tried that, but it just ended up sticking to the towel and ruining it.)

Gently turn the dough into the hot dutch oven and slit the stop about 1/2" deep with a very sharp knife. (Optional. I never bother slitting it.)

Cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the lid and bake for another 12-15 minutes.
**WARNING: The dutch oven will contain 400 degree steam. Be VERY careful when removing the lid to avoid being scalded by the escaping steam.**

The main problem with using a dutch oven, of course, is that you usually only own one and even if you have two, they will likely not fit in your oven at the same time. So I have to bake one loaf and then the next. It's worth it, though.

Using all white flour works, too, and is a bit easier to handle, but I find it a bit bland. The rye gives it a beautiful nutty flavor. Best when fresh, but not warm. I freeze whatever I'm not going to use in the next day or so.

Let me know how it goes :)

-Dwight