Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Crusty Loaf

About 3 years ago, the no-knead bread recipe was published in the New York Times and it took the food blog world by storm. I remember the time very clearly because I could only watch silently from the sidelines; I was on a blogging break at the time, neck-deep in writing my dissertation and eating suppers of Pepperidge Farm bread and peanut butter, washed down with orange juice.

I missed the no-knead bread bus and never ended up trying the recipe even later, but it was on my mind. Then, a book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day was written by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois on a similar theme, making great bread at home with an economy of effort. After waiting and waiting to try these kinds of bread recipes, I finally got this book home from the library last week. Read a review of the book here.

The main idea in the "5 minutes a day" method is:
1. Place water, salt, yeast, flour in a bowl and quickly stir it together.
2. Let it stay on the countertop for 2-3 hours, then move it to the refrigerator.
3. Then, any time in the next week or two, whenever you want fresh bread, break off a piece of the dough, let it rise for less than an hour and bake it.

The first recipe in the book is the master recipe for basic bread dough and that's the one I tried first as Recipe #9: Basic Boule. If you want to try this recipe at home but don't have access to the book, the master recipe has been posted in detail on this blog.

For my very first batch, I halved the recipe, mixing about 3 cups of flour with water and yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl and covering it with a plate. I decided that the original recipe called for WAY too much yeast- I added a teaspoon and that was plenty. Stirred everything into a wet batter and left it on the counter. 2-3 hours later, I peeked it and it was a bubbling mess. I stuck it in the refrigerator. Forgot about it for 2 days, then one evening, pulled it out, made 2 gobs of the dough on a pizza peel (spread with rava instead of cornmeal as an anti-sticking agent, because I did not have coarse cornmeal on hand), and let it rise for 45 minutes. Then, I baked it in an oven with some hot water in a pan underneath to create some steam. The whole technique was so effortless. And I got this:

Color me impressed. Perfect crackling crust and soft airy interior. That evening, we made open-faced sandwiches with pesto and roasted vegetables, and since then, we have bread stashed away for toast and PB-J.

Within minutes of baking the bread, I was checking the price of this book online. I never buy cookbooks, rarely finding enough recipes in one book to make it worthwhile, but this one is different. The only reason I don't bake bread as often as I would like is because of the timing and these recipes really help with the time factor.

Now I have a big bowl of olive dough in the fridge. The book has recipes to use this dough in pizza, calzones, stromboli, focaccia and fougasse so I'll have to see what I end up making with it.

See you tomorrow, with the kick-off of the recipe marathon. The participants are waiting at the starting line in the post below.


  1. Hi Nupur!

    I have been following your blog closely since over a year and I have to say that Im addicted to it! I'm a bread lover too and Im always searching for new bread recipes. I am a serious collector of bread cook books but they can be a little difficult to find here in India. But the book you mentioned is on my 'Must Buy' list already! Nupur, you are a fantastic cook and an even better photographer, these small pictures do not do justice to both your talents! Why don't you use the pictures in the size that you used earlier?

  2. Nupur, the no-knead-plus-5-min-working time combo makes this recipe a must try...this goes into my bookmarked recipes for sure!

    Looking forward to the 7-day recipe-thon!

    Merry X'mas!

  3. Have to try this Bread you mentioned u have olive oil dough and listed many breads under it, focaccio tempted me, and i made my basic focaccio for dinner, but its gone before dinner time...

  4. I sure agree with you about the yeast! Sometimes I can't believe how much recipes call for. I usually use around 1/2 tsp per cup of liquid in the recipe - and never more than a tsp.

  5. The boule looks great Nupur -- I'll have to give that a try. "Crackling crust" sounds too tempting! :)

  6. Bread Lover- For pictures taken in daylight, I do use bigger sizes.

    sowjanya- Thanks

    Vinaya- It is definitely worth trying! I am sure I will have more opportunities to make bread with this kind of flexible schedule.

    Lavi- I know, fresh bread disappears quickly in my home too.

    Fern- I'm glad you agree! In fact, now I will be cutting down the yeast even more to a fraction of a tsp. The way some recipes call for 2-3 tbsps of yeast, I wonder how I doesn't make the bread bitter.

    Linda- You'll definitely have to try this one- I'm a fan already ;)

  7. we made this a while ago too. we are not fans of white bread, but the crust makes up for everything.

    your bread just looks perfect !


  8. I have been wanting to bake this No-Knead bread for a loooooooong time now... I totally agree about not buying cookbooks... I almost always look for recipes online... I too feel that buying a book is not worth it... but there are some books that are exceptions.. like Peter Reinhart's Bread book... must check out the book that you have mentioned :)

  9. Jai- They do have some whole wheat breads in this book, and a whole new book devoted to whole grain baking which I plan to try out too.

    Indhu- I have to check out the Reinhart book one of these days!


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