Making bread at home is a deeply satisfying endeavor. It may seem daunting, and time consuming, but there are ways around that. If you have a nice heavy dutch oven you can make a beautiful loaf without much effort at all. Add a stand mixer to the equation and the whole process takes only about two hours.
When I first heard about Jim Lahey’s no knead method I was eager to try it. It requires a wet dough that sits at room temperature for 12 to 18 hours, which replaces the kneading. I’ve made bread this way numerous times and am always pleased with the result. America’s Test Kitchen did a version of his bread, replacing some of the water with a light beer, which adds to the flavor. I like to make bread this way when I have been thoughtful enough to make the dough the night before. I am not always thinking of the future me, and am often impulsive about my food choices. Michael Ruhlman is my unwitting enabler here, as he offers a version of Lahey’s dutch oven bread that does require kneading, thus making this a quick and easy recipe. I have changed the process slightly, and added a bit of malt syrup, which adds some flavor that I find agreeable.
20 oz. bread flour (approx. 4 cups)
12 oz. warm water
1 teaspoon malt syrup
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon active or instant yeast.
Set your oven to 200º. Mix the ingredients in the warmed bowl of a stand mixer. With the hook attachment, knead the dough for 10 to 15 minutes. If you’re going to walk away leave the mixer on the lowest setting, or it might walk off the counter. If you’re keeping an eye on it you can up the speed a bit. Once you have a silky smooth ball of dough, knead it a few times and shape into a ball. Flour the bowl, place dough ball in it, cover with a towel.
Turn off the oven! Place the bowl in the oven with a tray of water on another rack. The dough will rise quickly in the warm, moist oven. In about an hour it will double in size. Remove the bowl and tray of water from the oven. Put a dutch oven and lid in the oven, turn it to 450º.
While the dutch oven preheats, punch down the dough. Shape it into a ball or an oval, depending on the shape of your dutch oven. Place it seam side down on a well floured towel and let sit for 15 minutes. At this point your oven should be nice and hot.
Carefully lift the lid off the dutch oven. Using the towel as a sling, lift the dough and flip it gently into the hot dutch oven, seam side up.
Bake, lid on for 30 minutes. At this point remove the lid. It might look done but it needs more time. Bake another 15 minutes or so. To check it you can remove it, carefully, from the dutch oven and knock the bottom of the loaf, if it’s done it will sound hollow.
The temptation to cut into it immediately will be overwhelming, but it really should rest a while. Anyway, I love the crackling sound the bread makes as it rests.