I think every home cook needs a few go-to recipes that make them look better than they really are in the kitchen. In our house it’s a rich, delicious and simple chicken curry, a tomato tart and my variation on the famous no-knead bread (from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC) that swept the cookery world a few years ago thanks to Mark Bittman.
I was introduced to it by Chris Nuttall-Smith, a former editor of mine (now Toronto’s go-to restaurant guy) and his infectious enthusiasm had me making the bread the very next day. My first few loaves were nothing to write home about, but they seem to get better and better. The best part: it’s insanely easy and takes very little effort (if some planning ahead since you have to let it rise over night).
And my kids are crazy about it. Mostly, I do it in the summer when we’re on vacation, but maybe some fresh bread could help us get out of the lunchbox rut we’re already wallowing in—and elevate the humble sandwich to something to look forward to.
I follow Bittman’s adaptation of Lahey’s recipe but also do some serious improvising with whatever I have around. Here’s my own tweak: I like to speed up the rising process with a bit more yeast and the use of warm water, and throw in some oatmeal and flax if I have it. (I recommend playing a bit with the measurements to get it right if you’re going to improvise—too much non-white flour or oatmeal makes it dense, too little and I find it a bit uninteresting.)
Bread without knead
2.5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/4 cup wheat germ or wheat bran or ground flax meal
1/3 teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
1. Mix together flour, oatmeal, flax meal, yeast and salt. Add 1 1/2 cups (plus 2 tbsp if it needs it) warm water, and stir until blended. It will be a bit wet looking but not liquid. Cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rest 8-10 hours hours, or up to 12, at warm room temperature.
2. The surface of dough will be bubbly when it’s ready. Flour a work surface and place dough on it; fold over a few times, sprinkling with flour and shape it into a ball. Place it on a cotton dishtowel dusted in flour and cover with another cotton towel. Let rise for about 2 hours. It should double in size.
4. Heat oven to 450 degrees about half an hour before the dough is ready. Put a heavy covered pot (I use a casserole-size Le Creuset) in the oven as it heats. When dough is ready remove pot from oven and put the dough into the very hot pot, seam side up. Shake pan to distribute the dough evenly. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is browned. Cool on a rack.