Trends come and go, and I often find myself running far behind them, never able to keep up with newest gadget or fashion. BlackBerries? I’m afraid of them. Skinny jeans? I prefer the boot cut variety I’ve been wearing for the past seven years. But at least I’ve finally caught on to one of the most significant culinary revolutions of the past year and a half: Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread.
As soon as Mark Bittman published this recipe in his New York Times column back in November 2006, both experienced bread bakers and novices were amazed. The recipe proved itself time and time again: You too can make rustic, European-style bread in your home, and without a lot of work. Just combine some instant yeast, white flour, salt, and water, and let the mixture sit for a long time. I mean, a really long time, about 20 hours altogether. Time does all the work while your dough rises in the corner, out of sight and out of mind.
I read about this recipe everywhere, yet I didn’t consider trying it. I had never heard of instant yeast, and I didn’t own an enameled cast iron Dutch oven, which was recommended as the pot best suited for the recipe’s success. This bread wasn’t for me.
But this fall it re-entered my consciousness. Luisa of The Wednesday Chef (one of my favorite food blogs), tested a quicker variation of the recipe, also from the New York Times. After comparing the results, she still preferred the original No-Knead recipe. Suddenly I just had to make this bread. I started thinking about it all the time and even went on the prowl for instant yeast. I finally found some cellophane-wrapped packets high up on a shelf at the Red Hook Fairway, hidden among the birthday party supplies.
Next I resorted to begging, turning to Jim and my parents for a Le Creuset Dutch oven. Jim was reluctant, as our tiny kitchen was already overflowing with pots, pans, and appliances we barely used. But finally my parents gave me one for my birthday. I broke it in with those sausage sandwiches, but my second project was No-Knead Bread.
The recipe was just as easy as it sounded. I put the dough in to rise at around 12:30 pm on Saturday, ran some errands, went out to dinner, and finally, went to bed. I folded the dough a few times at 8 am on Sunday, let it sit a little longer, baked it at 10 am, and there it was: a beautiful, brown, crusty loaf of bread.
I dedicated that windy Sunday to Mark Bittman, making potato and leek soup from his new vegetarian cookbook. As soon as the creamy, soothing soup was ready, I took out my bread knife and cut into the rustic loaf. The crust crackled a bit, and then finally gave way to its soft, spongy interior.
I’ve been eating it all week, bringing slices to work with the leftover soup. With my next try, I’m excited to mix some whole wheat flour into the dough recipe. This is one trend I can handle. For once it’s nice to follow the crowd, especially if the crowd is making bread.