Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Fool-proof artisan bread

I've been perfecting a no-knead artisan bread for the past 7 years. I've combined recipes and techniques from the New York Times no-knead bread and the book Artisan bread in 5 minutes a day. I've got it down to a science now.

This recipe takes only a few minutes. It requires NO kneading. And it's almost impossible to mess up.

The bread is deliciously chewy and bubbly in the inside, with a thick, crackly crust. It keeps well for several days wrapped in a kitchen towel or linen bread bag. 

You don't need to be around for 3-4 hours to make this bread. It takes maybe one minute to mix the night before or, in a pinch, first thing in the morning. Then, when you're ready to bake the bread, another minute to form the loaves. And no waiting for the bread to rise: as soon as the oven is hot, the bread is ready to bake!

How does it work? I theorize that it's a combination of a wet dough, a long fermentation (hence the small amount of yeast), and the steam created in the oven. Instead of creating gluten strands by kneading the dough, you simply let the gluten form by itself during the long overnight rise. The amazing crust develops as the wet dough and the steam on the outside work their magic. And, because of the long rise, you get a more complex flavor--not as strong as a true sourdough, but much better than conventional homemade bread.

Here's how to make my bread:

American recipe
  • 3 cups hot tap water
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp yeast (up to 1 tsp if your yeast is old/weak)
  • 1 tsp malted barley flour (optional)
  • ~ 6 3/4 cups flour (I usually use 1 cup whole wheat & 5 3/4 cups white flour. You can use more whole wheat, but the bread will become more dense.)
    Metric recipe:

    • 650 ml hot tap water (not scalding)
    • 1 Tbsp salt
    • 1/2 tsp yeast (up to 1 tsp if your yeast is old/weak)
    • 1 tsp malted barley flour (optional)
    • 150 whole wheat flour
    • 850 g flour

    You can also add other ingredients into the dough: nuts, dried fruits, flax seeds, etc.

    Step 1: Mix the dough the night before
    Choose a large container with a lid. Mix together the ingredients until you have a wet, sticky dough. No wetter than this: see how it looks almost shaggy? It needs a bit more flour

    I added at least 1/4 cup more flour. This dough pictured below is perfect. It holds its shape in the bowl, but when you pinch it, it comes away sticky. If the dough is dry enough to knead, you've added too much flour. You should NOT be able to knead it!

    Cover the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap.

    Step 2: Folding
    I recently started folding my dough 3-4 times after I mix it. You can make this bread without folding, but adding this step greatly improves the dough's elasticity and gluten network, meaning the bread will rise better and with bigger air bubbles.

    About 45 minutes after mixing the dough, wet your hands. Grab the dough from the outside edge of the bowl, lift up until right before the breaking point, and fold towards the center. Go around the edge of the bowl and do 8 folds. Cover the dough.

    Repeat the folding every 45 or so minutes, 3-4 times total.

    Step 3: Cover and let rise overnight
    * Accelerated version: put the dough in a warmed oven and let rise 4-8 hours, until it's ready. I often do this in the morning if I've forgotten to make the dough the night before.

    I've also found that you can mix the dough first thing in the morning, and it will be ready to bake by the evening, especially if the room is on the warm side.

    If you mix it in the morning but won't have time to get to it until the next day, put the dough in the fridge after the folding steps. Take it out the next day and let the dough come back to room temperature before baking.

    Step 4: The dough is ready when it looks like bubbly pancake batter (unfolded) or full of big, unpopped air bubbles (folded)
    Normally this would be the next day. It's typically ready in the morning unless your house is very cold. You can bake your bread any time during the day.



    Step 5: Time to bake bread! Turn the oven to 450 F or 230 C
    Put an old pan on the bottom rack of the oven. This will be where you pour water so the loaves cook in a steam oven. It will get lots of mineral deposits, so don't use a nice pan!

    Step 6: Sprinkle generously with flour and gently scoop the dough away from the sides
    I probably use between 1/4 - 1/2 cup. You'll want lots of flour because the dough is VERY sticky.

    Try to leave as many of the air bubbles intact. 

    Step 7: Form the loaves on parchment paper or a silicone baking mat
    The key is to handle the dough as little as possible. The more air bubbles you leave, the better the end result. I usually tuck the loaves under 2-3 times and that's it.

    If you're making baguettes, let the bread dangle as you tuck, as I'm doing in this photo.

    You can either put the parchment/silicone on a flat baking sheet and put the combination in the oven. Or if you have a pizza stone warming in the oven, slide the parchment/silicone onto the stone when it's ready to bake.

    Step 8: Sprinkle generously with flour and wait for the oven to reach full temperature
    The loaves are ready to bake once the oven is hot.

    If you forget about your bread, it can rise for up to 2 hours and still turn out fine. I've done this many times :) If the loaves have flattened out too much, gently tuck them under once. You really can't mess this bread up!

    Step 9: Right before putting the bread in the oven, slash loaves with a serrated knife.
    Diagonal, criss-cross, X, concentric rings....whatever you like

    Step 10: Pour a glass of water into the old pan on the bottom rack.

    Step 11: Bake for ~35 minutes
    The loaves will rise a lot as they bake, so don't be worried if they look funny, lumpy, or small when they go in the oven. Aim for a dark brown crust.

    Step 12: Eat. Preferably hot. With lots of butter.


    1. What good timing! I happened to read this last night when I was completely out of bread, but had all the ingredients on hand and 10 minutes before I needed to start the kids' bedtime. We had fresh bread artisan for breakfast - wonderful!

    2. That looks so good! I am definitely trying your recipe.

    3. Rixa, thank you for posting this! I made it last night/this morning, and it's delicious (not to mention easy and beautiful).

    4. I've been excited to make this since you posted it. Made it today (forgot to start it last night of course so did the quick version) and it turned out great! Thank you!

    5. My bread turned out greyish inside, with beautiful crust. Bit wet also. Do you have any idea what went wrong? How long do you wait after taking out from oven? Do we need to let the bread cool down before cutting?

      1. A few possibilities:
        1. You might want to make your dough a bit less wet (i.e., add more flour)
        2. The bigger the loaf, the longer the inside will take to bake. With 3 cups of water, I usually make 2 baguettes and 2 round loaves.
        3. Yes, you do need to wait to cut the bread, especially if it's a bigger round loaf. 5-10 minutes of waiting is usually enough.


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