Ease and No-Knead French Bread
I bake bread every week, sometimes twice a week.
It’s not because I’m obsessive, which I can be. It’s because it’s really easy.
Flour + Yeast + Salt + Water
I know, I know, what’s easy for me may not be easy by your standards. But this isn’t like the time when I told you that making mozzarella cheese was simple. Or when I suggested that making your own ravioli was an uncomplicated process.
Bread, this bread, is easy–“four ingredients in a bowl, give it a stir, and forget about it for twelve hours” easy.
My husband Greg makes bread when I’m traveling.
My sister-in-law makes bread, and now she’s teaching her twelve-year-old son.
My friend Carrie makes a whole wheat version (half bread flour and half whole wheat flour) of this bread. She taught her husband how to make it and then her sister.
That said, my love for making bread has little to do with the ease. There is an allure about it, a certain kind of magic if you will, that never dulls. I’m seduced by the russet colored loaves, a house that smells like a bakery, the feel of the warm loaf under my hand as I slice into it, and that first crisp yet chewy bite. Hold the butter, please.
Fresh bread has the power to unleash my primal instincts. On occasions all too rare, I eschew the bread knife and the evenly cut slices and instead pull the warm loaf apart with my hands. I plunge it into the salty wine broth left behind when we’ve polished off the last steamed mussel. I chew slowly–a much bigger bite than I’m used to–and watch Greg take his turn. His strong forearms bulge as he pulls at the loaf. He soaks his bread until its completely saturated with the briny broth. Not wanting to lose any of the salty goodness, he swiftly brings the drenched bread to his mouth. I’m still chewing as the glistening broth drips from his chin. This breaking of bread and breaking with our usual domesticated dining etiquette is liberating. As if, like the bread, we too are broken open.
In those fleeting moments the ease of making bread is lost on me. Slowing down, allowing myself to succumb to the bread’s magnetism, to savor the crusty loaf one satisfying bite at a time–there’s nothing easy about that.
No-Knead French Bread
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups water
2 teaspoons cornmeal or rice flour
- Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Add water and stir with a long handled spoon until the dough resembles a shaggy ball, adding more water if necessary. Cover bowl with cling wrap. Allow dough to rise at a warm room temperature (67-70°F) for 12-18 hours. It’s ready when it has nearly doubled in size and the surface is bubbly. (I typically make my dough the night before I want to bake it. If you want a shorter rise time, increase the amount of yeast to one teaspoon. The dough will double in bulk in 3-4 hours.)
- Sprinkle a large piece of parchment paper with cornmeal or rice flour.
- Flour a board and your hands with only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking. Turn dough onto the board and shape into a ball. Place the dough on the parchment paper with the seam side down. Set it in a large colander and cover with a cotton towel. Let rise for 1 1/2-2 hours until doubled.
- Put a 6-8 quart heavy covered pot (cast iron or ceramic) in the oven. About a half hour before the dough is ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450°F degrees.
- When the dough is ready cut a few 3/8-inch deep slashes across the top with a sharp knife. (This allows the steam in the bread to escape as it bakes.) Remove the hot pot from the oven and set the dough in. Cover pot with the lid. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove lid and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, until the bread is deeply browned on top.
- Cool on a wire rack for an hour before slicing.
Makes 1 loaf.