Ahh bread, the staff of life. The oldest and most basic of prepared foods, a staple for at least 13 millennia. For much of human history, bread was the primary food for most western peoples. For something so basic, so fundamental to our existence, and produced so early in our history, you would think this is something most people would be able to make. And yet most of us plunk down our hard-earned cash to buy either cheap factory-made crap that is full of air or wood pulp, or expensive artisanal breads.
It doesn't have to be this way. Mark Bittman wrote an article in the NY Times about a recipe for bread that requires no kneading and is baked in a pot. It produces a good crusty loaf that matches the artisan bakeries, but at $0.15 in flour and yeast versus $5.00. By baking in a pot, you keep the humidity high at the start, which allows the crust formation like those fancy steam ovens. It used a 18-hour rise to develop a complex, deep yeasty flavor. This recipe has been adapted a bit since then, evolving as other people have tried it, and the result is a recipe that is easy, can be done in a day, and stacks up well against anything Whole Foods is putting out.
Recipe: No-knead bread
3 cups (375g) bread flour or all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon yeast (whatever kind you have handy)
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups slightly warm water
Mix the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl.
Add water to flour mixture, stirring very thoroughly. You will have a loose, sticky dough. The favored term seems to be "shaggy".
Spray dough with cooking spray. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a dish towel, and sit in a warm place, around 70F, for 8 hours, (or up to 18 hrs if you are in no hurry). It should at least double in size, and the surface will be covered in small bubble holes.
Spray counter with cooking spray, and turn dough out onto counter. Fold once or twice, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest an hour. I used flour for this step, but the dough is so sticky, I think I'll use spray next time. I could already smell that great yeasty smell at this point. This is gonna be good!
At least 20 minutes before the hour is up, put your pot in the oven, preferably an oven-safe dutch oven if you have one, and preheat. The various recipes called for 450-475F. I used 460, and that was fine, might even do a little higher next time.
When the hour is up and the dough has risen to twice it's size, pull the pot from the oven. Quickly pull the dough into ball as pictured above, and drop into the pot. If the dough is too sticky to do this neatly, don't worry, just dump it into the pot as best you can.
Bake for 30 minutes. Remove lid from pot and bake for 15-20 minutes more, until golden brown and an instant read thermometer reads an internal temperature of 210F.
My loaf did not stick at all. I just reached in carefully and lifted it out. As it cooled, I could hear it crackle.
As you can see, the texture was light but no big air pockets, and with a nice thick chewy crust.
First slice was plain with butter. Good structure, held up well to the buttering even when still warm, and nice and moist. Taste was as good as any french loaf I've had. This would be amazing with sourdough starter instead of yeast.
After that, I made lunch: a tuna salad sandwich.
Well folks, I think I'm done buying bread. There's no reason not to do this, it is easy, cheap, and so good. Let me know what you guys think. Hope it works for you too!