I’ve been known to get very sentimental about the topic of bread. Bread baking is a connection to my grandfather. It is a connection we all have to each other and to our ancestors. It is a foundational skill, if you will. I like bread.
But I also appreciate the fact that making bread can mean being at home for hours on end tending several successive sessions of dough rising. And that is why I have come to love no-knead bread recipes that keep in the refrigerator for days. One batch can give you 4 nights of hot fresh bread over 7 to 10 days. The bread is better than what you can get in the bakery of your local grocery store, and as good as many of the breads that you will buy at an honest to goodness bakery. And, it is easy. There is really nothing at all to it. Even if you decide that bread baking is not for you, I want to encourage you to try this or my other no-knead bread. Everyone should bake bread at least once in their life.
This recipe is adapted from a recipe I found on the Former Chef Blog. She, in turn, adapted it from the book Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I have also seen the recipe on the King Arthur Flour Blog. This works. And this bread makes the best toasting bread I have ever had. It has a very nutty flavor and the edges get crisp and beautiful.
One story about my darling piece of bread in the top photo…you will note that it is actually rather brownish and uninspiring in appearance without the ruby glaze atop it. The jam makes a stellar photo prop, does it not? When you start baking bread, you tend to make friends. People like to talk about hot homemade bread the same way they like to talk about hot homemade pies. This strawberry jam was made by my friend Bill Novak. Comically, we sit at the YMCA pedaling away the calories for general well-being, and apparently so we can each go home and bake truck loads of bread. Bill has figured out how to make jam with his bread making machine. You should probably try to make friends with Bill, too. Another reason to be friends with Bill is that he knows a lot of great, how shall I put this, pointy headed jokes. He recently shared a pie anecdote with me that he saw on a t-shirt or something…it said “Pi, Irrational but well rounded.” It is an apt description of pi, pie, and me. I still laugh at this every time I read it. You aren’t laughing are you? Granted, you have to be a mathematically inclined baker to think that this is hysterical. OK, fine, try this punny Bill joke…”The roundest knight at King Arthur’s Round Table was Sir Cumference. They say his size is a result of too much pi…” Anything? My side hurts now.
You will need to have a big bowl with a cover or a food service bucket to mix and keep the dough. I have bought a white plastic one at the restaurant supply store and I’ve even written the recipe for the crusty white refrigerator bread on the side with a permanent marker.
1 pound plus 9 ounces whole wheat flour (about 5-1/2 cups)
10 ounces unbleached all-purpose flour (about 2 cups)
1-½ Tablespoons granulated yeast
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
4 Tablespoons vital wheat gluten
4 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees fahrenheit)
Put all of the dry ingredients in the large bucket or bowl. Add the water and stir with a strong spoon until all of the water is absorbed into the flour. I usually end up sticking my hands in and turning it over a few times to make sure there aren’t any dry patches in the corners of the bucket. Cover the bucket loosely with the lid or plastic wrap and leave it on the countertop to rise for two hours. Then place the bucket in the refrigerator. You can use the dough over the next fourteen days.
When you are ready to bake the bread, reach into the bucket with floured hands and break off a chunk of the dough (equal to a third or a fourth of the original amount of dough). Form it into a ball and place it on a floured pan or piece of parchment on a pan to rise for about 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven (with a baking stone in it, if you have one) to 450 degrees. The dough will not expand much during the rise, but will do so in the hot oven. Cut slits in the top of the bread when the 90 minute rise is complete. With a floured hand, either pick up the dough gently in your hand and quickly place it right side up on the stone, or place the parchment covered baking sheet directly into the oven.
Immediately, use a spray bottle to spray about 3 mists of water into the oven and close the oven door. Two minutes later, quickly spritz some water into the oven again. Continue to bake the bread for an additional 30 minutes. The bread is finished when it reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees, or when it is hard and makes a hollow sound when you “knock on it.” Some people will place a small dish of water in the oven with the bread to have the steam effect of the spray bottle. I don’t like sloshy boiling water or broken dishes, so the spray method has been a great thing for me. Both work.
Remove the loaf to wire rack to cool for a minimum of 30 minutes before slicing. If you wait longer the texture will improve still. I am rarely able to wait. Plus, I bake bread to the slightly less cooked stage. But that is apparently not “right.” You will learn when bread is finished. Using the thermometer is a great tool in the mean time.
I find that this recipe makes nice little petite loaves. One loaf is perfect for my family at dinner, with a few slices left over for toast in the morning, with lots and lots of butter and honey, or jam…if you have good friends.
There are two things I have purchased for my kitchen lately which I have not regretted in the least. One, I bought a nice big pizza stone. My bread loves it. I’ll get to the pizza soon (amazing). The second is my kitchen scale. If you have a scale you can make buckets and buckets of bread without dirtying a measuring cup. Most electronic scales have the ability to “zero out”. You merely put your container on the scale and push the zero button and it disregards the weight of the container. With a little math and a few pushes of a button, you can merely pour your flours into the bucket and stop when you get to the right number. I love my scale. Love.
And, if you are saying to yourself that you still do not have two whole hours to fuss with bread after work, try the other no knead recipe, which doesn’t take as long on the rise. The wheat simply takes a bit longer. Finally, this time I cut the vents on my bread longways. Most people, including myself, usually do 2 or 3 cuts across the short way. I was just in a longways kind of a mood on picture day.