From Scratch: Make perfect artisanal loaves at home without kneading


Before my epiphany, I had been baking bread for about 40 years.

I thought my loaves were tasty, but my husband still snuck off to the bakery to buy the crusty artisanal loaves he preferred.

I knew in principle how they were created, but no matter how many ice cubes I tossed into the oven, I could never develop a comparable crust nor duplicate the taste.

This all changed in 2006 when Mark Bitman wrote his famous article on no-knead bread in the New York Times. I read and re-read the article and watched the video. Although this was unlike any baking I had ever done, I gave it a try.

Lo and behold, my first attempt produced a crusty French-style boule just like the bakery-bought loaves at $5 a pop. The furtive trips to the bakery ceased. Once my husband saw how easy it was, he became so enamored of the method that he took over the baking!

Recipe: The initial mixing of the dough takes only a minute or two. My husband usually does this the night before.

You will need 3 cups flour, 1-5/8 cups warm water, 1-1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon instant (rapid rise) yeast. The yeast measurement is not a misprint; it really is just 1/4 teaspoon. I prefer white unbleached flour, but I have made the loaf with part whole wheat flour, too.

In a large bowl, first mix the flour, salt and yeast. Add the water and stir until blended. The dough will be very wet and shaggy.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it sit for 10 to 14 hours in a warm place. The time depends on the temperature of your house.

The dough's high moisture content allows the gluten to develop on its own without any kneading. The long rise imparts a flavor you won't find in store bought bread.

The dough is ready when bubbles appear on the top.

Shaping: When the dough is ready, flour your hands and scoop it from the bowl. Place it on a floured work surface and fold it over a few times. Cover it loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, wash the bowl you used to make the dough. Line it with a sheet of parchment paper.

Form the dough into a ball and place it back into the parchment-lined bowl. Cover again with plastic wrap and let it rise for 1 to 2 hours or until it doubles in size. Again, this will happen a lot faster in summer than winter.

When ready to bake, place a 4- to 6-quart covered pot in the oven and turn the temperature to 435 degrees F.

The first time I made the bread, I used a cast iron frying pan covered with a stainless steel bowl. It worked, but it was probably not the best thing for my bowl.

Now we use a long stoneware baker I bought at a yard sale, as we prefer a long loaf rather than a round one.

When your oven is preheated and the baker is hot, gently lift the parchment paper with the dough and place it in the hot dish. Place the cover on and cook for 30 minutes.

Lift off the lid and cook for another 15 to 25 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown.

Lift the bread out by the parchment paper and wait at least an hour (if you can) before cutting.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.