Making bread

The best bread you can eat is the one you made yourself.

I say that often to customers and bread lovers. Not many people buy it, but I stand by it.

Bread is elemental, human. It’s a miracle! Mix flour, water, yeast and salt. Bake it, and you’ve made a beautiful, nourishing loaf that is delicious and pleasing to chew. Imagine eating the very miracle you’ve created. It’s satisfying because you made it yourself. And because it tastes way better than anything you’ll buy in the grocery store.

It’s a miracle because it only takes four ingredients. Mix them up and over time they transform into something sublime — the staff of life.

Anyone can make good bread

Anyone can make good bread. I became convinced of this when I first learned the “No-Knead” bread method about ten years ago. I had acquired My Bread — The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method by Jim Lahey. 1 The loaves pictured in the book looked tantalizing, and I fell for the promise of making the simple loaves with a minimum of effort.

I had success from the first loaf. The loaves were delicious! I’d make several at a time, give the extras to neighbours, serve them to guests. People said I was a talented bread baker, but I hadn’t done much. I mixed the dough, then let the dough do the rest.

This bread method and the recipe is fail-safe! There’s no sourdough involved, no fancy ingredients — just flour, water, salt and baker’s yeast. Mix up ingredients until combined. Cover bowl, let sit for 18 hours. Uncover bowl, shape into a round, let proof for two hours. Flip risen loaf into a heated dutch oven, bake. Pat yourself on the back for the masterpiece you’ve created. Fail-safe.

The bread dough proofs and ferments for about 20 hours. No kneading, and that’s the magic. The dough does the work. There are only about 15 minutes of hands-on work. You won’t believe the beautiful-looking loaves that come out on the first try.

Very soon, you’re ready to move on to the other no-knead variations, like Pane Integrale (whole wheat bread), Pane all’Olive (olive bread) or Fennel-Raisin Bread. And your bread journey has begun!

Fail-safe. It’s a big claim, but it’s true.

A recent Whole Wheat No-Knead Loaf from Lahey. That’s bran coating the crust.

If you’ve always wanted to make your own bread, my best advice would be to buy the Jim Lahey book, My Bread, or find it at the library. It sets out 20 or so bread recipes with comprehensive instructions, illustrated by informative photos of the process.

The book also has a recipe for basic pizza dough and ten different kinds of pizza and focaccia. A section on “The Art of the Sandwich” is delectable!

Lahey explores pizza in greater depth in his follow-up book, My Pizza — The Easy No-Knead Way to Make Spectacular Pizza at Home (2012). No fancy equipment required. His most recent book, The Sullivan Street Bakery Cookbook (2017), is all about sourdough with an emphasis on the bread of Italy.

Following is a shortened version of the basic bread recipe in My Bread, pp. 50-55. Lahey’s words are encouraging and confidence-boosting. “Don’t feel too uptight about any of this,” he says as if to say, “You’ve got this!” And he’s right.

If you try it, please let me know how it goes. Send me an email!

The Basic No-Knead Bread Recipe

This recipe yields a 10-inch round loaf; 1¼ pounds.

  • If you have an electric metric scale, use it instead of your cup/teaspoon measures. Measuring ingredients by weight ensures greater accuracy.
  • A heavy pot, such as a dutch oven, 4½ to 5½ quart size
Bread Flour3 cups400 grams
Sea Salt (fine)1¼ teaspoons8 grams
Instant or Active Dry Yeast¼ teaspoon1 gram
Water (cool, 55º – 65ºF)1⅓ cups300 grams
Wheat Bran, Cornmeal
or additional flour
for dusting
  • In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. If it’s not really sticky, add a tablespoon or two of water.
  • Cover the bowl with a plate, tea towel or plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature (72ºF to 75ºF), out of direct sunlight, until the surface is dotted with bubbles and more than doubled in size; about 12 to 18 hours (my preference). This slow rise — fermentation — is the key to flavour!
  • When the first fermentation is complete, dust a work surface with flour. Using a bowl scraper or rubber spatula, scrape the dough onto the board in one piece. When you pull the dough away from the bowl, it will cling in long, thin strands. This is the developed gluten. It will be quite loose and sticky. Do not add more flour! Use lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper to lift the corners and edges of the dough into the centre to make the dough round.
  • Place a cotton or linen tea towel (not terry cloth) into your cleaned medium bowl. Generously dust the cloth with wheat bran, cornmeal or flour. Gently scrape and lift the rounded, shaped dough into the cloth-lined bowl. Cover the top off the dough with the ends of the towel and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for one to two hours.
  • The dough is ready when it has almost doubled. Another test is to gently poke the dough surface with a lightly floured finger, making an indentation about ¼ inch deep. The dough should hold the impression. If the dough pushes back, let it rise another 15 minutes.
  • Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven, with the covered heavy pot (or dutch oven), to 475ºF with a rack in the middle.
  • Using pot holders or oven mitts, remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel from the dough, lightly dust the surface with wheat bran or flour. Quickly but gently invert it into the pot, seam side up. CAUTION: The pot will be very hot! Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut colour, but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes more. 2 Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to lift the loaf out of the pot. Place it on a rack to cool thoroughly.
  • Don’t slice or tear into it until it has cooled completely, usually one hour. Instead, listen to the bread “singing.” You’ll begin to hear rapid-fire cracking sounds, one pop after the other. This is the sound of the crust cooling. It’s rather magical! Place your face near the loaf and feel its heat on your cheeks, breathe in its beautiful aroma. This is a special moment! You made this loaf! Enjoy it!

  1. My Bread — The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method by Jim Lahey with Rick Flaste, published 2009 by W.W. Norton & Company

  2. Personally, I aim for a darker colour because I like the flavour and the appearance of a nicely burnished loaf. But you can end the bake earlier if you prefer a lighter colour. If you have a cooking thermometer, look for an internal temperature of about 205ºF.

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