Effortless Bread for Sunday Dinner
If you’ve ever followed a recipe, you know cooking involves a bit of math. Especially if you’re changing the number of servings. And if you’re planning an entire menu, the mathy-est part is figuring out the start times for every step.
As I started to cook more often, I developed an innate feel for time management. But even for me, baking is still a challenge because it’s often less art and more science. Let cake batter sit too long or overmix a dough, and the result could be disastrous.
So, this month I’m turning breadmaking on its ear. I’ve converted a recipe from time-based durations to a clock-based approach. I’m giving you the steps and when to start them, instead of you having to work up a timeline. The result is a foolproof, delicious bread that will make you a supper rockstar!
This recipe is based on the King Arthur brand “No-Knead Crusty Chewy Bread.” Apropos, the key to this and all no-knead breads is time itself. Time is doing the hard work for you.
Thursday at 7:00 p.m. Take a break from Wheel of Fortune to mix in a large bowl: 5 cups bread flour; ¼ tsp instant yeast granules; 2 ¼ tsp table salt; 2 ⅔ cups cool water.
The mixture will be rather wet and stringy. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let it sit overnight on your counter.
Friday at 7:00 a.m. You will see a dough that is bubbly and has risen a good bit. Put the bowl in your refrigerator. By letting the dough rest for almost two days, you’re passively developing its gluten which is what it needs for that springy texture and airy bite. You’re doing this instead of kneading.
Sunday at 12:45 p.m. Grease the bottom and sides of a 5.5- to 6-quart cast-iron Dutch oven (or a casserole dish with a lid) with nonstick cooking spray. Then dust the greased surfaces with cornmeal or rice flour.
Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Your dough is a grayish-tan blob. You might even see a little water separation. It won’t look appetizing. No worries.
Gently stir the dough down, separating it from the sides of the bowl. The goal is not to deflate it in any hard way. Nudge and pour the dough into your greased dish. Put the lid on and let it rest on the counter.
Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Preheat your oven to a screaming hot 450°.
Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Put the dish in the oven with the lid on. The lid is the key, trapping the steam like a professional baker’s oven.
Sunday at 3:45 p.m. Carefully take the lid off. Ta-da! You have a loaf of bread, albeit still be kind of pale.
Sunday at 3:55 p.m. It’s time for a judgement call. You want your bread to be deep caramel brown. If it’s not, let it bake a couple minutes more. Don’t worry, you’re not going to burn it.
Turn the loaf out onto a baking rack or lean it against a bowl. Do not set it on a cutting board. It needs to get air underneath and around it.
Sunday at 4:30 p.m. The house smells amazing and you want a slice slathered with butter. Don’t do it! Cutting too early will release steam and allow cold air to rush in. This will be a fleeting pleasure, and you’ll be punished tomorrow with slices that are gummy. A slow cool is key to a crusty crust and a light fluffy crumb.
Sunday any time after 5:00 p.m. Cut and enjoy! Drink in the kudos. Sign autographs. You worked for it. OK, we know you really didn’t.
• Start googling. There are many no-knead breads with all sorts of fun techniques, including recipes where you preheat the Dutch oven, ones where you gently lift and fold the dough like a letter, and still others where you slash the top like a true baker.
• You really should use bread flour for the dough. You’ll find recipes where you can swap in some whole wheat flour but be warned the bread will be heavier.
• For dusting the pan, I’m partial to rice flour and lots of it. It gives that rustic, streets-of-Paris, bakery look. Using regular flour won’t work as it can burn.
• Using a bigger pan is fine. I like the 5.5 quart because the dough climbs the sides, getting higher in the middle. The larger the pan, the wider and lower the loaf. Still delicious.
• You can chill the dough longer than two days. It will age like a fine wine. Sort of like it’s fermenting, developing a great yeasty taste. But there’s a tipping point where the result will be denser. So, start no earlier than Tuesday. ▼
Ed and his husband Jerry split their time between homes near Harrisburg Pennsylvania and Bethany Beach. Recipe requests and feedback welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org.