My first experience with homemade bread was when my parents bought a bread-making machine. I remember us putting all the ingredients in the night before, and setting a timer, so that the next morning, we awoke to the smell of baking bread and with much excitement, we would open the machine up to reveal a perfectly cooked loaf. It wasn’t the best bread as I prefer a good crusty bread, like baguette, ciabatta, or “boule” style if it has a dense, chewy and elastic texture inside. But, it was exciting enough to know that we’d made our own and not bought it from the supermarket. (Sidenote: does anyone know the terminology for the inside of the bread that is not crust? In French it’s called “mie” and I just don’t know what the word is in English!) Then, years later, as a masters student doing fisheries research in the middle of nowhere, in a picturesque cabin floating on a dock in Northern BC surrounded by nothing but mountains and ocean, one day I woke to my supervisor nonchalantly kneading bread for breakfast. He used no recipe, did it out of habit, and casually baked us fresh bread for that morning so that we wouldn’t have to buy expensive sliced white bread which was the only kind cargo-shipped up to the research cabin once a month. I was in awe. From then on, I tried to make my own loaves of bread which were successful, but nothing amazing. Sliced bread is just not comparable to crunchy rustic baguettes or boules.
But then, a couple years ago, I found Jim Lahey’s recipe. And my world changed! It was so ridiculously easy, pretty much fool-proof, and best of all, required no kneading. All you need is some foresight and planning as this bread will require you to make it a day in advance. I make this bread for myself and as a gift to others (because isn’t homemade bread the best gift ever?) and customize it easily by adding things like herbs and cheese, or walnuts and cinnamon. It is such a forgivable recipe, it is the tilapia of bread. (Tilapia being very resilient fish that can survive in a huge range of conditions).
- 3 cups bread flour (I’ve used all-purpose and it is fine too)
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 package instant dry yeast
- 1 1/3 cup room temperature water
- Additional flour for dusting and coating surfaces
- Large pot, preferably a heavy one like a Le Cresuet
- Stir together the flour, salt and yeast. Pour in the water and mix loosely with your hands. You don’t need to over-mix and create a 100% homogeneous ball of dough, but mix it enough so that there is no loose flour at the bottom and sides of the bowl. It should be very wet and sticky.
- Cover the bowl with a plate and leave it at room temperature for 12-18 hours. The reason why you don’t need to knead the bread is because the long rise time does the work of the kneading for you. Just cover it and forget about it till the next day. I’ve left it for 24hrs before and it was fine.
- Dust a working surface with flour. Scrape your sticky dough onto the surface and loosely shape into a ball. The dough will be stringy and very soft. Don’t squish the dough, don’t knead, just gently pull it into shape. I do this by pulling at the sides one by one and folding them over the top of the dough to make a round shape.
- Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour and cover with a tea towel. Leave for 2hrs for a second rise.
- Preheat the oven to 475F with a covered large pot inside.
- After 2hrs of rising, carefully place the dough inside the hot pot. Don’t burn yourself. And don’t worry about the dough sticking to the bottom. It won’t since it’s been floured, and the pot is at a high temperature already.
- Cover the pot, place back in oven and cook for 1hr. Then remove the lid and cook for another hour.
- Remove from oven and let cool for at least 15min before slicing into it (the hardest part of the recipe!)