OMG – so exciting. Ok, so almost two years ago, I retrieved Mark Bittman’s story in The New York Times about Jim Leahy’s no-knead bread recipe. Jim Leahy is owner of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City and he makes a mean loaf of bread. And yesterday, I finally made it (or rather, I started it on Friday; this bread needs no kneading, but it does need plenty of time; more to come on that) and it was AMAZING! Hands-down, it was the best bread I’ve ever made: a super-crisp, hearty crust and the inside … so tender, so flavorful of pure yeast and flour, so chewy, so DELICIOUS! My first slice was slathered in some good, unsalted European-style butter and savored over the kitchen counter … sighs of happiness.
Oooh, look at it – a few airy pockets inside, perfect for catching melting butter or warm jam.
So, as I mentioned, the key to this bread is time. From start to finished loaf, you need about 20-22 hours. Uh huh. But it’s worth it. So if you work five days a week like I do, you can start this, at, say, 1 p.m. on Saturday and bake it on Sunday morning.
Want to make it? Yes, you do. Let’s roll!
WHAT YOU NEED
One cast-iron pot with a lid (such as Le Creuset or similar)
2 clean cotton dish towels, but not terry cloth
3 C. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 tsp instant yeast (which is one packet)
1 1/4 salt
1 cup, 5 ounces of water (lukewarm)
WHAT YOU DO
1. In a big bowl, mix the flour, salt and yeast. Whisk it about to combine. Add the water and stir until everything is blended. It’s going to look wet, sticky and kind of shaggy. Perfect.
Now cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and stow it for at least 12 hours; ideally 18 hours. I started this at 2 p.m. on a Friday, and let ‘er rise til 8 a.m. Saturday morning. And I stowed it in the oven (not on).
2) Ok, 12 to 18 hours later, remove the plastic wrap. The dough is ready when you see it dotted with tiny bubbles like this:
Put some flour on your work surface, and your hands (the dough is sticky), and plop the dough onto your floured work surface, folding it over on itself two or three times. Cover the dough with plastic again and let it take a little nap for 15 minutes to relax.
3) Okay, now flour your hands again and gently get that dough into a ball or circle shape and gently plop it onto a very generously floured cotton kitchen towel (not terry cloth!). Dust with some more flour and put another towel on top of it. Walk away, have some coffee, read the paper, whatever, for two more hours. Dough will have magically doubled in size and won’t readily spring back if you poke it with your finger.
4) At least 30 minutes before the dough is ready, fire up your oven to “screaming hot” — 450 degrees — and put your cast-iron pot into the oven with the lid on to pre-heat. Ok, ready? Get that freaking hot pot out of the oven, set it on a wooden board so you don’t set your counter on fire and take off the lid. Now it’s time to wake up your dough from its cozy floured-towel bed. Remove the top towel and slide your hand under the bottom towel and turn that dough, gently into the pot. It might look a mess – mine did – and that’s okay; it’ll straighten itself out in the oven. Put the hat on your pot and shove it into the oven for 30 minutes. Then take its hat off and bake uncovered for 15 more minutes. Get your butter and jam ready!
5) Remove pot from oven, gasp in delight and excitement at your golden brown loaf and remove it from the pot, to a cooling rack (with oven mitts). Resist the urge to cut into it immediately – let it cool for 15 minutes, minimum. Inhale the scent of fresh-baked bread. Take a picture of it for Facebook. Then slice into one end, slather it with butter, maybe a few grains of Maldon sea salt and enjoy!
Note on Storing: Alas, the crust will not stay forever crispy. But it will collapse on you entirely if you put the bread in a sealed zip-bag, so don’t do that. I left mine, cut-side-down, on a board overnight and ate some this morning (I just warmed it up, resting it on top of the toaster slots for a few minutes) and it was delish. I’ll probably cut my beauty in half and freeze half of it, and try to eat the other half within a few days. Remember, home-baked bread has no preservatives (hurray!), which means mold can grow kind of quickly (boo), so break bread with your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and then plan your next bread-venture! And give thanks to Mr. Jim Leahy for this amazing recipe. Good luck and let me know how yours comes out.