Yesterday, Juls and I celebrated our 5 year anniversary. If there is one thing that I’ve learnt from the frenchmen in 5 years its the pleasure of the smell of fresh bread out of the oven and the taste of a slice smeared with melting Camembert.
I genuinely can’t remember the last time I bought a loaf of sliced bread from the supermarket. Juls won’t eat the stuff – ‘its gluggy and sticks to the roof of your mouth’. These days neither will I. For a while we bought fresh sourdough loaves from the farmers market. Then we bought a house, our eyes were opened and $7 a loaf became exorbitant. Thus I entered the world of bread making.
Everyone said ‘buy a bread maker’. ‘Another gadget?’ I asked. ‘But I have an oven!’ I confess I’m not a baker, I’m not good with precise measurements & timing. A little of this and that is more fun. Instead I’ve searched around, and below is the simplest, most realistically-achievable-for-the-modern-world bread recipe that still-delivers-on-taste-texture & down-right-deliciousness that I could find.
The nitty-gritty… This is a no knead bread, no elbow & wrist work required. Instead of kneading, the dough is allowed to rest and ferment for a long period. Kneading & fermenting both aim to accomplish the same thing – that is, they allow the gluten molecules in the dough to align, giving bread that soft holey texture we know & love.
I once made this loaf with my mother-in-law (note: we converse in french, bastardised on my part) and she was shocked at the ratio of a 1/4 tsp of yeast to 2 tsp of salt. Why? Because when yeast is surrounded by salt, it releases water necessary for its reproduction and suffers osmotic stress. Without yeast reproduction there is no rise. I’ve since been searching to understand why the combination works for this recipe. Here’s what I’ve learnt so far…
Yeast works by feeding off the sugars in flour. In the process carbon dioxide is released, aerating the bread. In some cases, when yeast is exposed to high salt solutions it produces metabolites which protect it from osmotic stress and the toxicity of ethanol during fermentation.
Salt increases the elasticity of the dough. Ions in salt react with charged amino acids in the flour resulting in the alignment of gluten molecules. Aligned gluten molecules equal good texture. Salt generally slows yeast growth so that the resulting bread crumb is nice & even. Too much salt can kill yeast entirely.
Two and two together – the high water content in the dough protects the yeast from suffering osmotic stress and so it keeps reacting and the bread keeps rising. The high water content also increases the mobility of the gluten molecules and the high salt content then helps those mobile gluten molecules align creating enough elasticity for the yeast to work its wonders. All it takes is time. The right balance of salt, yeast, water and time equal no wrist work, just a lesson in patience.
If anyone else has any knowledge or info about this – pass it on!
Originally this is a recipe by Jim Lahey, a New York baker. It has made the rounds of the food blog world and I confess I prefer the Green Kitchen Stories adaptation. Emilie of The Clever Carrot also has a good version. I’ve added more of my own notes at the bottom of the recipe which will help you vary the recipe to meet your own needs.
Dutch Oven No-Knead Bread
Barely adapted from Green Kitchen Stories
Makes one good-sized loaf
400gms rye flour
300gms bakers flour + extra for dusting
2 1/2 cups luke warm water (20-25°)
1/4 tsp yeast
2 tsp salt
1 tsp honey
You will also need one dutch oven or oven proof dish with a lid.
1. Add the two flours to a large bowl and combine.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the water, yeast, salt & honey and stir. Add the wet mixture to the dry and mix well. It will be sloppy not firm.
3. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit over night (12hrs) at room temperature (20ºC/70º F). In the morning the dough will look bubbly and should be holey.
4. Dust the bench top and a clean tea towel with flour. Remove the dough and place on the floured bench top. It will be shapeless. Give it shape by folding one edge into the middle, followed by its opposite edge. Then fold the other two ends in.
5. Gently lift the loaf and place the folded seam side down onto the tea towel. Dust the top with more flour, then fold the tea towel edges in tight. Let rest for another 2 hours.
6. Half an hour before the dough is ready, pre-heat the oven to 250ºC/480ºF, placing the dutch oven inside to warm up.
7. When the dough is ready, remove the dutch oven (careful it will be scorching!) and place (drop) the dough inside. Score the dough deeply with a knife, replace the lid and return to the oven.
8. Bake for 30 mins, then remove the lid and bake for a further 15-30 mins until the loaf is nicely brown.
9. Remove the dutch-oven, let cool for 5 mins, then remove the loaf and place on a baking tray. As irresistible as fresh bread is, be sure to let it cool before slicing.
I’ve made this recipe with wheat, spelt & rye flours and all worked well. I have tried using only whole flours without the baking flour but the resulting bread is too dense.
I’m not a stickler for timing, and for the sake of convenience I often do a long second rise. Eg: An initial rise from 8pm to 7am and then a second rise from 7am till 5pm. The dough does fatigue a little so the end result is perhaps a little more dense, but just as tasty. Personally I’m willing to make that compromise if it means I can bake a loaf mid-week.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a dutch oven. You could use any oven-proof cookware as long as it has a lid. Cast-iron, ceramic or even a tagine would work. The lid is necessary because it traps the steam which gives the bread its crunchy crust.
I’ve tried baking this recipe straight on a stone pizza base. It’s not bad but the dutch oven is definitely better. If your going to try it, I would suggest trying the following: change the proportion of flours to 400gms bakers flour to 300gms whole grain flour, stick to only a 2 hour second rise and then at 5 and then 10 minutes of baking time, throw a 1/2 cup of water into the oven to create steam, so that you still get a crunchy crust.
Thermomix uses – grind your whole grain flours in 2 batches of 200gms each (2 mins speed 9). I do the rest of the recipe by hand. I’ve never actually tried mixing the dough in the thermo but I think it would just be too sticky. If you try it, let me know how you go.
The handmade loaf – see library