The cookbooks make home breadmaking sound so simple. “Five minutes a day,” claims one. “Fuss-free,” says another.
Best of all: “No-work,” according to “My Bread,” by Jim Lahey, founder of the renowned Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City.
“I really question the ‘no work’ part,” said Gay DeMichele, director and instructor at the new Schnucks Cooking School in the Des Peres Schnucks supermarket. DeMichele was the inaugural director of L’Ecole Culinaire before joining Schnucks, and she’s also a former caterer and longtime home bread-baker.
She and chef-instructor Lucy Schnuck volunteered to test one recipe from each of three new “no-knead” cookbooks that recently crossed our desks: The boule (rustic round loaf) that’s the base recipe in “My Bread”; Ten-Grain Bread from “Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François; and Cinnamon Pinwheel Raisin Bread from the “fuss-free” book, “Kneadlessly Simple,” by Nancy Baggett.
The Ten-Grain Bread had the easiest technique, requiring a two-hour rise and a 90-minute rise, which can be reduced to 40 minutes if you use the dough immediately after the first rise instead of refrigerating it. The other two breads, however, call for first rises of up to 20 hours followed by second rises of up to 2 1/2 hours.
The long rising increases fermentation time, which causes a process author Baggett calls “microkneading.” The bubbling action of the released carbon dioxide causes the dough to form gluten strands like those that would be caused by traditional kneading. Especially after the first rise, the dough is much wetter than dough made for traditional kneaded recipes.
The basic boule and many of the related recipes in “My Bread” are cooked in a cast-iron pot (Schnuck used a Dutch oven); the other books’ recipes were cooked with more common bakeware, in this case, in a loaf pan for the raisin bread and directly on a cooking stone for the Ten-Grain Bread.
The loaves got generally good reviews from the Schnucks school staff. The boule was the favorite, with a crispy, full-flavored brown crust surrounding a fairly airy interior.
“I think you really have to watch it at the end,” Schnuck said. “The recipe says to reach a deep chestnut color, but it gets really dark really fast after you take the lid off. Much longer on this one, and it would have tasted burnt.”
Schnuck and DeMichele decided that the Cinnamon Pinwheel Raisin Bread had come out perhaps five to 10 minutes too soon, but the well-cooked part of the loaf had a fairly delicate texture and a classic cinnamon-sugar-and-raisin flavoring.
The densely textured Ten-Grain Bread was the pair’s least favorite, the added flavor from the grains not enough to thrill them about the basic whole-wheat flavor.
“But I don’t like wheat bread that much to begin with,” Schnuck said.
The key to the “no-knead” approaches, Schnuck added, was time and planning.
“I think I’d still prefer to knead, but the ‘My Bread’ recipe, especially, tasted really good in the end,” Schnuck said. “You just have to have lots of time, and to realize that it’s going to be 16 or 18 hours between one step and the next.”
Basic No-Knead Bread (Boule)
Yield: 1 10-inch round loaf (about 11/4 pounds)
3 cups bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon instant or active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups cool water (55 to 65 degrees)
Wheat bran, cornmeal or additional flour, for dusting
1. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, salt and yeast. Add water. Using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Make sure it’s sticky to the touch; if not, mix in another tablespoon or two of water. Cover the bowl with a plate, tea towel or plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature (about 72 degrees, see note), out of direct sunlight, until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size. This will take a minimum of 12 hours and up to 18 hours (longer if the room is cool).
2. When the first fermentation is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough onto the surface in one piece. When you begin to pull the dough away from the bowl, it should cling in long, thin strands and it should be quite loose and sticky. Do not add more flour. Use lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula to lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.
3. Place a cotton or linen tea towel (not terry cloth) or a large cloth napkin on your work surface. Generously dust the cloth with wheat bran, cornmeal or flour. Use your hands or a bowl scraper or wooden spatula to gently lift the dough onto the towel so the dough is seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal or flour. Fold the ends of the towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, making an indentation about 1/4 inch deep, the dough should hold the impression. If it doesn’t, let it rise for another 15 minutes.
4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees, with a rack in the lower third. Place a covered 4 1/2- to 5 1/2-quart heavy pot in the center of the rack as the oven heats.
5. Using pot holders, carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel, lightly dust the dough with flour or bran, lift up the dough (either on the towel or in your hand), and quickly but gently invert it into the pot, seam side up. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.
6. Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes more. Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to carefully lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly. Don’t slice or tear into it until it has cooled, which usually takes at least an hour.
Note: If your room is cooler than 72 degrees, let rise longer and pay attention to visual cues: At the end of the first rise, the dough is properly fermented when it has developed a darkened appearance and bubbles, and long, thread-like strands cling to the bowl when the dough is moved.
Per slice (based on 10): 145 calories; 0.5g fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 5g protein; 30g carbohydrate; no sugar; 1g fiber; 290mg sodium; 7mg calcium.
Adapted from “My Bread,” by Jim Lahey (W.W. Norton & Company, 2009)
Yield: 2 (1-pound) loaves
1 cup uncooked 10-grain hot cereal, such as Bob’s Red Mill brand
1 1/2 cups white whole-wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
1 3/4 cups lukewarm water (see note)
1/2 to 1 tablespoon mixed seeds (sesame, flaxseed, raw sunflower, poppy and/or anise)
1. Whisk together dry cereal, flours, yeast, salt and vital wheat gluten in a 5-quart bowl or a lidded (but not airtight) food container.
2. Add lukewarm water. Mix without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup food processor with dough attachment or a heavy-duty stand mixer with paddle. If you’re not using a machine, you might need to use wet hands to get the last bit of flour to incorporate.
3. Cover (not airtight) and allow the dough to rest at room temperature until it rises and collapses (or flattens on top), about 2 hours.
4. The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when it is cold. Refrigerate it in a lidded (not airtight) container and use within the next 10 days.
5. When ready to bake, dust the surface of the dough with flour and cut in half. To shape each loaf, dust with more flour and quickly shape into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go.
6. Elongate the ball into an oval. Place the loaf on a pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal or lined with parchment paper or on a silicone mat or a greased cookie sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; let dough rest. (Cold dough should rest for 90 minutes; fresh, unrefrigerated dough for 40 minutes.)
7. Place a baking stone on the middle oven rack and preheat the oven to 450 degrees for 30 minutes. Place an empty metal broiler tray on another rack that won’t interfere with the rising bread.
8. Just before baking, use a pastry brush to paint the top crust with water. Sprinkle with the seed mixture and slash the loaf with 1/4-inch-deep parallel cuts, using a serrated bread knife.
9. Slide the loaf directly onto the hot stone from the pizza peel or place the silicone mat or cookie sheet on the stone. Pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray and quickly close the oven door. If you used parchment paper, a silicone mat or a cookie sheet under the loaf, carefully remove it after 20 minutes and bake the loaf directly on the stone or an oven rack. Bake for a total of about 30 minutes, until loaf is richly browned and firm.
10. Allow to cool on a rack before slicing.
Note: This recipe was developed using Bob’s Red Mill 10-grain cereal, which is sold in many supermarkets and natural-food stores. If you use another brand, adjust the amount of water as necessary.
Per slice (based on 20): 90 calories; 0.5g fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 4g protein; 17g carbohydrate; 0.5g sugar; 2g fiber; 150mg sodium; 10mg calcium.
Adapted from “Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François (Thomas Dunne Books, 2009)
Cinnamon Pinwheel Raisin Bread
Yield: 1 large loaf (12 to 15 slices)
About 3 2/3 cups unbleached white bread flour, divided
2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon instant, fast-rising or bread-machine yeast
1 3/4 cups ice water, plus more as needed
About 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled, divided
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
2 large eggs, at room temperature and beaten with a fork, divided
3/4 to 1 cup dark raisins, rinsed under hot water, drained well and patted dry
Corn oil or other flavorless vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray
Cinnamon sugar (generous 1/3 cup granulated sugar combined with 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon)
1 tablespoon cool and firm unsalted butter, cut into fine bits
1. In a large bowl, stir together 3 cups flour, 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar, salt and yeast. Stir in ice water, scraping down the sides and mixing just until the ingredients are thoroughly blended. If the mixture is too dry, stir in additional water, a bit at a time, to blend the ingredients and produce a fairly soft dough.
2. Brush the top of the dough with about 1 tablespoon melted butter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. For best flavor, refrigerate the dough for 3 to 10 hours. Remove from refrigerator; let dough rise at cool room temperature for 16 to 20 hours. If convenient, vigorously stir the dough about halfway through the rise.
3. In a medium bowl, stir together 3 tablespoons melted butter, dry milk powder and 2 tablespoons beaten egg until thoroughly blended. Add to dough. Vigorously stir (or beat on low speed with a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook) until smooth; this may take several minutes.
4. Vigorously stir in raisins until evenly incorporated. Gradually mix in 2/3 cup or more flour, enough to yield a hard-to-stir dough. Refrigerate dough for 10 minutes.
5. Coat a 16-inch-long sheet of baking parchment with vegetable oil or nonstick spray. Generously dust the parchment with flour. Turn out the dough onto the center of the parchment. Evenly dust dough with flour, then use flour-dusted fingertips to shape dough into a rough rectangle.
6. Dusting with more flour as needed to prevent sticking, press out the dough into a 9-by-14-inch rectangle. Brush some of the remaining beaten egg evenly over the dough to within 1/8 inch of the edge. Cover and refrigerate any remaining egg.
7. Sprinkle all but 1/2 teaspoon of the cinnamon-sugar mixture evenly over the dough to within 1/4 inch of the edge. Sprinkle the bits of cool butter over the sugar.
8. Tightly roll up the dough from a 9-inch side to form a pinwheel log, using flour-dusted hands and lifting the parchment to assist the rolling as you work. Pinch the seam together tightly, then lay seam side down. Firmly tuck the ends of the log underneath. Transfer the loaf, seam side down, to a well-greased 9-by-5-inch baking pan. Brush or spray the top with oil. Cover the pan with plastic wrap that has been coated with nonstick spray.
9. For a 1 1/2- to 2 1/2-hour regular rise, let stand at warm room temperature; for a 1- to 2-hour accelerated rise, let stand in a turned-off microwave along with 1 cup of boiling-hot water; for an extended rise, refrigerate for 4 to 48 hours, then set out at room temperature. Let rise until the dough nears the plastic, then remove plastic and let dough rise to 1/2 inch above the pan rim.
10. Place a rack in the lower third of the oven; preheat oven to 350 degrees. Evenly brush the dough top with the remaining beaten egg. Wipe away any egg that pools around the edges, as it would cause the dough to stick to the pan. Sprinkle the remaining cinnamon-sugar over the top.
11. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the loaf is nicely browned. Cover with foil and bake for 25 to 35 minutes longer, until a skewer inserted into the thickest part comes out with just a few particles on the end or until the center registers 207 degrees to 209 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. At that point, bake for 15 to 20 minutes more, to make sure the center is done. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Turn the loaf onto the rack; cool thoroughly.
Per slice (based on 15): 210 calories; 4.5g fat; 2.5g saturated fat; 40mg cholesterol; 6g protein; 38g carbohydrate; 14g sugar; 1g fiber; 250mg sodium; 32mg calcium.
Adapted from “Kneadlessly Simple,” by Nancy Baggett (John Wiley and Sons, 2009)