White Bread, Three Ways: Part III

As related last week, I was underwhelmed by the results of my maiden voyage on the no-knead bread train. I’m a confessed “kneady” gal, so maybe I was feeling first-time jitters or just simply finding my doughy way. Whatever the case, I remained unconvinced that NK would become my new MO, unless of course, someone else could show me the crumby light…Which leads me to the final installment in this mini series on good ole white bread.

(Kim O'Donnel)

So let me cut to the chase: I may have found the holy grail of bread making, folks. Admittedly, I was reading through “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois with great skepticism, but I was truly intrigued by their thesis that a) you could make bread without kneading and b) make a batch of so-called NK dough that you could use at your leisure over a two-week period.

The b) part is what sealed the deal for me; imagine having your very own refrigerated stash of dough from which you snip a portion, bring up to room temperature, do very little in the way of molding and shaping and then in about in an hour, have beautiful, bakery-style bread come to life. It’s kinda like having your very own Pillsbury dough boy but without preservatives, fillers or unknown ingredients. What struck me, as we kick off the EDF Challenge is just how cost effective this method is – four one-pound loaves of bread for the price of six cups of flour (about $3) – and you can have it on demand for two weeks! Assuming you have yeast on hand, you’re making bread for about 75 cents a loaf.

On Friday night, as I was coming out of my flu haze, I made a batch of this ridiculously easy dough, to which I replied: “Wait a sec. That’s it?”

Yep, that’s it, and then you let it rise for about two hours, which is about the same amount of time you’d need for the old-school knead-and-double proof method.

To pull this off, you need two items that are not required for Nancy Baggett’s NK method or the Betty Crocker knead-and-proof method – a baking stone and a four or five-quart lidded plastic container. I’d long put off getting a baking stone, but found one for about $15 at Bed, Bath & Beyond that works like a charm. As some of you have mentioned in previous posts, unglazed tiles from Home Depot work great, or you can spend the big bucks for something fancier. For a oversized plastic container, look at places like Target or K-Mart or maybe even borrow one from a neighbor for a few weeks. Otherwise, you no longer have an excuse for not having fresh bread in the house; Hertzberg and Francois’s method is a home run, making the intimidating and mythical a done (and tasty) deal.

The Master Recipe: Boule (Artisan Free-Form Loaf)

From “Artisan Break in Five Minutes a Day” by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg

Makes four 1-pound loaves. Recipe may be doubled or halved.

3 cups lukewarm water
1 ½ tablespoons granulated yeast (or 1 ½ packets)
1 ½ tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
6 ½ cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measure with the scoop-and-sweep method
Cornmeal for pizza peel (KOD note: I used a thin bamboo cutting board)

* Baking stone (I bought one for $14.99 at Bed, Bath, Beyond and it works just great. You do not need to spend a ton of cash on the stone)
* A four or five-quart lidded plastic food bowl, container or food-grade bucket. Important that you not create airtight seal.

Warm water slightly: It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100 degrees F. Warm water will rise the dough to the right point for storage in about two hours. You can use cold tap water and get an identical final result; then the first rising will take three or even four hours.

Add yeast and salt to the water in aforementioned plastic container. Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve.

Mix in flour -- kneading is unnecessary: Add all of the flour at once, measuring it in with dry-ingredient measuring cups, by gently scooping up flour, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula; don’t press down into the flour as you scoop or you’ll throw off the measurement by compressing. Mix with a wooden spoon, a high-capacity food processor (14 cups or larger) or a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with a dough attachment, until mixture is uniform. If you’re hand-mixing and it becomes too difficult to incorporate all the flour with the spoon, you can reach into your mixing vessel with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don’t knead!
It isn’t necessary.

You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. This step is done in a matter of minutes, and will yield a dough that is wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.

Allow to rise: Cover with a lid (not airtight) that fits well to the container you’re using. Do not use screw-topped bottles or Mason jars, which could explode from trapped gases. Allow mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approximately two hours, depending on the room’s temperature and the initial water temperature. Longer rising times, up to about five hours, will not harm the result.

You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period. Fully refrigerated dough is less sticky and is easier to work with than dough at room temperature. So, the first time you try our method, it’s best to refrigerate dough overnight (or at least three hours), before shaping a loaf.

On Baking Day
The gluten cloak: don’t knead, just “cloak” and shape a loaf in 30-60 seconds. First, prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to prevent your loaf from sticking to it when you slide it into the oven.

Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour. Pull up and cut off a one-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough, using a serrated knife. (KOD note: I eyeballed the dough and lightly traced it into fourths, and used kitchen shears to excise dough.)

Hold mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch surface of dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Most of the dusting flour will fall off; it’s not intended to be incorporated into the dough. The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out and adhere during resting and baking. The correctly shaped product will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no more than 30-60 seconds.

Place shaped ball on the cornmeal-covered pizza peel: Allow the loaf to rest on the peel for about 40 minutes (it doesn’t need to be covered). Depending on age of the dough, you may not see much rise during this period; more rising will occur during baking.

Twenty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 450 degrees, with a baking stone placed on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray (or shallow baking tray) for holding water on any other shelf that won’t interfere with the rising bread.

Dust and slash: Dust top of loaf liberally with flour, which will allow the slashing knife to pass without sticking. Slash a ¼-inch-deep cross, “scallop,” or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top, using a serrated bread knife.

Baking with steam: After a 20-minute preheat, you’re ready to bake. Slide loaf off the pizza peel and onto preheated baking stone (KOD: Use whatever you need to help you without disturbing dough too much). Quickly but carefully pour about 1 cup of hot water from tap into broiler tray and close oven door to trap the steam. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch (KOD note: In my oven, it took closer to 45 minutes. This is why an oven thermometer is so key!) Because you’ve used wet dough, there is little risk of drying out the interior, despite the dark crust. When you remove loaf from oven, it will audibly crack or “sing,” as it’s exposed to room-temperature air. Allow to cool completely, preferably on a cooling rack, for best flavor, texture and slicing.

Store remaining dough in refrigerator in lidded container and use over next 14 days. You’ll find that even one day’s storage improves the flavor and texture of bread. (KOD: I can vouch for this: Second loaf was much more flavorful.) This maturation continues over the 14-day storage period. Dough can also be frozen in one-pound portions in an airtight container and defrosted overnight in the refrigerator prior to baking day.

By Kim ODonnel |  March 9, 2009; 1:00 PM ET Bread , Eating Down the Fridge
Previous: Eating Down the Fridge: Let the Fun Begin! | Next: Eating Down Fridge: Guest Blogger Julia Watson


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day is chock full of variations on this recipe. All of us out here in Minnesota say that we are so addicted to the basic version that we never get to all the yummy sounding variations.

Posted by: babloom | March 9, 2009 2:12 PM

This might sound silly, or I missed it...what's a pizza peel?

Posted by: earlysun | March 9, 2009 4:30 PM

Here's a link to a photo of a pizza peel:

As I mentioned, I used a thin bamboo cutting board in its place. Essentially, you want something that allows you to easily transfer the dough without lifting and misshaping as you transfer to oven.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | March 9, 2009 5:06 PM

Not quite true, babloom....the European peasant bread variation has my allegiance!
Still, I couldn't believe this method would work either, until I tried it. Makes terrific bread, doesn't it?

Posted by: dmw100 | March 9, 2009 5:36 PM

OK, this one I'll try though I'll have to buy a new stone. I've had 2 or 3 pizza stones, but all of 'em cracked on the 2nd or 3rd use. That was with my old oven, though, and my new oven has wonderfully accurate temp controls.

Posted by: ArlingtonGay | March 9, 2009 6:15 PM

GAFF, if I was the least bit unsure about this method, I'd tell you not to buy a stone -- but it's THAT GOOD. Run, don't walk, to your new baking stone. Also, when you "wash" stones, remember to do so when stone is completely cooled, that' s how a lot of the cracks happen.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | March 9, 2009 8:46 PM

I am a huge follower of this method. If you don't want to mess with the pizza peel/cutting board/cornmeal, I've had success letting the loaf raise on parchment paper and using that to transfer to the oven. Then, with 10 mins remaining in the cooking process, I pull the parchment out from under the bread (while its in the oven)and the bottom gets crisp as well. This process cuts down on the mess and you aren't getting bites of cornmeal with your bread.

Posted by: afalger | March 10, 2009 9:59 AM

I don't understand the "cloaking" step. At all. I think I need a picture. Is it like you are stretching the dough from the the very top of the ball all the way to the bottom?

Posted by: mee3c | March 10, 2009 11:25 AM

I don’t have a baking stone. I don’t know how to cloak and shape loaves and looking at all the instructions in the recipe posted suggests it’s a lot of trouble. The breads I’ve tried in the Kneadlessly Simple/Nancy Baggett book are artisan quality, and they don’t require a stone or cloaking. In fact, unlike all the other Dutch oven bread recipes I’ve seen, the Kneadlessly Simple ones let you just turn out the wet dough right into a pot. This means you don’t have any shaping and no mess to clean up. The loaves come out not only crusty and brown, but nicely shaped.

Posted by: kip1 | March 10, 2009 2:44 PM

Kip1, thanks for your comments. This little experiment has made me realize more than ever how there's a different bread method for every kind of baker. Some will fit, some won't. All three recipes I tried yielded tasty results, but they all possess unique characteristics, some great, some not so great, in my opinion. I think at the end of the day I'm still a kneader, but I'm still searching. Cheers.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | March 10, 2009 2:50 PM

What does Granulated yeast mean exactly?
Rapid Rise/Fast rise or Instant or Active Dry? Or are these all the same thing?

Posted by: jbva | March 10, 2009 4:29 PM

I have had a baking stone for many years and avoid cracking it by leaving the stone in the oven after turning it off. I remove the oven knob and put it somewhere near the stove. Later, before I can turn the stove on, the empty spindle reminds me to remove the cold stone.

Posted by: jenandtomh1 | March 10, 2009 7:31 PM

anyone have advice on how to do this with whole wheat flour? I love this bread recipe but would like to make a slightly healthier version. Thoughts?

Posted by: tyler1 | March 13, 2009 10:46 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company