The smell of yeast fermenting sugar in flour and the subsequent aroma of fresh bread baking in a hot oven are both supremely satisfying things to imagine waking up to. If there were a candle or room freshener that summarized these fragrances, I think it would be a huge commercial success. I’d probably be the first customer.
Even though I am more of a cake baker than a bread baker, I find making bread on the weekends a sensory experience. The hungry yeast cells chew away at the sugars in the flour to create carbon dioxide, acid, and water, all of which form a spongy soft mass enclosed by a toasted shell that crackles when touched. The texture, aroma, taste, and sound are wrapped together in that loaf, making a special moment.
I’ve made sourdough and other types of bread but never frequently enough to classify myself as a master bread baker. Over the years, one bread recipe made me more confident in my ability to bake bread, and Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery created that recipe. This bread recipe helped build my confidence and remained one of the easiest bread recipes I’ve encountered. I’ve tweaked it over the years and changed the method to make it work for me in the kitchen.
Unlike my previous recipes, I’ve changed the format this time; it is a bit more conversational. There are lots of notes and instructions on making it in a steam oven. I hope this acts as a helpful guide to help you with baking bread.
Happy baking this weekend, and I hope you play the bread tabla,
Here’s how I make no-knead bread at home. (It does sound like nonni bread, if I say it fast enough.) This is how I make bread in its simplest form without spending too much effort later. As for those beautiful gashes and cuts that make gorgeous loaves of bread, we will deal with that later. This newsletter is about the basics of bread making.Print
3 cups/420 g all-purpose flour plus extra for dusting
1 ½ tsp fine sea salt
¼ tsp dried yeast
1 1/3 cups + 2 Tbsp /320 ml + 30 ml water at room temperature
- Mix the flour, salt, and yeast in a large food-safe container or bowl. Stir in 1 1/3 cups/320 ml of water using a spatula or wooden spoon. The flour should become a shaggy mass. If the flour still looks dry, add 1 Tbsp of water at a time. There should be no visible flecks of flour. Cover the container or bowl with a tight lid or plastic wrap and leave it in a warm room away from direct sunlight for 20 hours. If the room is cool, you might need to leave it for 24 hours.
- The dough will be bubbly and almost double in size. It will be very wet.
- Dust a clean kitchen counter with flour. Dust a proofing basket or large bowl with flour.
- Transfer the dough to the kitchen counter and shape it gently to form a ball, pinching the seams at the bottom to seal. Use flour to keep the dough from sticking. Carefully transfer the dough seam side up into the proofing basket. Cover loosely with a lint-free kitchen towel that’s been dusted with flour. Leave to rise and double in size for at least 2 hours. The dough will be ready to bake when it doesn’t spring back when gently pressed with a finger. If it doesn’t, let it rise for another 10 minutes.
- 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450F/230C. Use either method that works for you (Steam v Non-Steam, Dutch Oven v Pizza Stone).
- Place a sheet of parchment paper over the basket with the dough. Carefully flip the bowl over on the kitchen counter; the dough should fall onto the parchment paper. Transfer the dough with the parchment paper to the preheated Dutch oven or pizza stone or baking steel sheet and bake (instructions follow).
Baking Settings for The Oven:
- The crust of the bread and most of its shape develops somewhere in the first 20 minutes of baking. Retaining the moisture and heat is critical during this time. Avoid opening the oven unless you must.
Non-Steam Oven/Dutch Oven/Baking Steel/Pizza Stone
- First, set the oven to the convection bake setting at 450F/230C to heat for at least 30 minutes before baking. If you don’t have the convection setting, leave the oven at the same temperature, but bake a few minutes longer for the final half of baking to develop that crust and deeper golden brown color. Place the Dutch oven (a 5 qt/4.7 L size works well, don’t go too big, or the effects of the steam on baking will be less impactful) and the lid inside the oven as it preheats. If you don’t own a Dutch oven, place a pizza stone or baking steel sheet.
- If using a Dutch oven, place the dough inside the hot pot, cover it with the lid, and place it in the oven. Bake the dough covered with the lid for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and bake uncovered for an additional 30 minutes.
- If baking directly on a pizza stone or baking steel sheet, place a deep metal baking dish on the lowest rack in the oven. Pour 1 ½ cups of water into the pan and shut the oven. Don’t open the oven and bake for 1 hour. You can also toss a cup of ice, but water does just fine.
- First, set the oven to the convection bake setting at 450F/230C to heat for at least 30 minutes before baking. Place a pizza stone or baking steel sheet.
- Transfer the dough with the parchment paper onto the pizza stone, switch to the steam setting, and bake at 450F/230C for 20 minutes.
- Don’t open the oven; switch the dial to convection bake at 450F/230C for an additional 30 minutes.
- When done, the bread should be golden brown, and the internal temperature should reach 220F/100C when a thermometer is inserted in the center. Once baked, carefully transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool completely before cutting, 30 minutes to an hour. The bread should be good for at least 4 days.
- No matter the weight of the flour, all flours absorb water differently. This varies by brand, batch, humidity in the room, etc. Once mixed, the dough should be wet with no dry flecks of flour. There’s no kneading in this recipe, so the initial stirring of the flour and water is your one chance to ensure nothing is dry.
- I prefer using filtered water because the water is very hard where I live. The minerals in hard water can slow down the growth of yeast.
- An ambient room temperature between 70F to 80F/21C to 27C for 20 hours works best. This recipe uses a very small quantity of yeast, so the conditions must be just right for the yeast to multiply. I usually mix everything the evening before, let it ferment overnight, and then shape and bake in the morning. The fermented dough should be very wet and bubbly. Avoid exposure to sunlight and cool drafts; the yeast will thank you. You can leave the dough rising for 24 hours if the room is cold or for a stronger flavor.
- I’ve found that an airtight, food-safe container is the best option for helping the bread rise because it maintains constant humidity.
- Because this dough is very wet and sticky, you will need a lot of flour to coat your kitchen counter when shaping. Do not overwork the dough; shape it gently to form a ball, seal the seam from the bottom, and then transfer it to the proofing basket.
- You can use a glass bowl to help shape the bread, but a brotform will do an excellent job. This is what I own; it is made from compressed wood and, unlike the ones made from cane, lasts much longer. I’m very happy with it; I’ve had it for almost two years. I keep it in a kitchen cabinet, dry and lightly dusted with flour.
- For baking, here are some tools that I’ve found very useful.
- A pizza stone or baking steel is fantastic for heat retention, especially if you don’t own a Dutch oven.
- If you own a Dutch oven (I use this 5 qt/4.7 L Dutch oven), you don’t need to use the pizza stone or baking steel. The Dutch oven is preheated with the range, and the metal retains the heat very well. Be careful when transferring the dough to the Dutch oven; I usually move it using parchment paper (See the Reel below). Other options for a Dutch oven include using a large tagine, cast-iron skillet, clay, a borosilicate dish like Pyrex, or stainless-steel pots. Whatever you use, make sure it has a tall, heavy lid that seals the steam inside.
- Use the convection bake setting in your oven. It makes a better crust.
- Water is essential for creating the steam that helps the bread develop its crust. The first 20 minutes are critical; this is when the crust of the bread develops. If you don’t own a Dutch oven, place a baking sheet or metal dish at the bottom of the oven. Pour water into the sheet as soon as the dough goes into the oven, and keep the oven shut. The steam generated will help the bread develop its crust. If you’re using a Dutch oven, place the heavy lid on top, and bake. The moisture from the dough will heat up and turn into steam, which will help the bread develop its crust. The Dutch oven’s lid will help trap the steam, so I don’t add water. I recently got a steam oven and found that the steam function does a fantastic job.
- I leave the parchment paper under the dough and bake the dough with it. This becomes very convenient, especially if you’re using a Dutch oven.
- To transfer the bread into and out of the oven, a pair of silicone spatulas will help. Another option is to pull it out using the ends of the parchment paper that stick out from the sides.
- You can also use cornmeal or semolina instead of flour when baking the dough. I kept things straightforward here and used parchment paper. The gritty nature of cornmeal and semolina is a barrier between the metal (or stone, depending on what you use) and allows for the bread’s easy release.