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Rustic Bread

THE BEST ARTISAN LOAF YOU CAN MAKE AT HOME REQUIRES ALMOST NO KNEADING

In November 2006, New York Times writer Mark Bittman published a recipe developed by Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan that promised to shake up the world of home baking. The recipe did the seemingly impossible: It allowed the average home cook to bake a loaf of bread that looked like it had been produced in a professional bakery.

The recipe’s appeal was its simplicity and novelty. Mix a few cups of flour, a tiny amount of yeast, and a little salt together in a bowl; stir in a lot of water; and leave the dough to rise overnight. After 12 to 18 hours, the dough is turned a couple of times, shaped, risen, and baked in a Dutch oven (to mimic the steam-injected ovens used in bakeries.) An hour later, out comes the best loaf most people have ever baked at home—and all without kneading.

This bread succeeded in changing the conversation. Suddenly, everyone was making this recipe. But it had two significant flaws. The Dutch oven created an amazingly thick crust but the crumb didn’t capture the complex yeasty, tangy flavor of a real artisanal loaf. And the recipe often yielded irregular blobs rather than a tidy round boule.

To fix these problems, we rethought the roles of water, time, and kneading and devised a more reliable method for shaping the dough and getting it into the Dutch oven. We also experimented with flavor boosters. In the end, we found two secret ingredients—already in your kitchen—that help produce a loaf that tastes as good as it looks. Our recipe (think of it as the 2.0 version) finally delivers on the promise of artisan-quality bread made easily at home.

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS

Don’t Knead—Much

The original no-knead bread has a hydration level of 85 percent. The high level of water, along with the long rest, helps to form the gluten strands and, in effect, takes the place of kneading. But handling this very wet dough is difficult, so we cut back on the water some. With the lower level of hydration, the gluten strands aren’t arranged in the same way as the original recipe, so it is necessary to knead slightly—less than a minute.

Boost Flavor

Good rustic bread is made with a fermented starter, which takes days to develop flavor; a packet of yeast simply doesn’t offer that complex flavor. But there is a solution—two, to be specific. Most bottled vinegars are 5 percent solutions of acetic acid, the same acid produced by bacteria during fermentation. Just a tablespoon adds tang. And for complexity, reach for a bottle of beer, specifically a lager for best flavor. During fermentation yeast produces alcohol, carbon dioxide, and sulfur compounds—which are all present together in beer.

Simplify Shape and Rise

Skip the complicated shaping techniques and follow our easy two-step process (see this section). To help this wet dough hold its shape, let it rise right in the Dutch oven. And place the dough on a piece of greased parchment paper so that once the bread has finished baking you can use the edges of the paper to lift the bread out of the hot pot.

Hack a Bakers’ Oven

Baking the bread in a Dutch oven essentially acts like a miniature version of a steam-injected oven used by professional bakers. Keep the lid on for part of the baking time and then remove it to allow the bread to finish baking and brown.

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Spiking the water with beer and vinegar builds flavor in a flash. An instant-read thermometer is the best way to judge doneness.

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Almost No-Knead Bread

MAKES 1 LOAF

RECIPE DETAILS

Timeline

  • 5 minutes to assemble dough
  • 8 to 18 hours to let dough rise
  • 5 minutes to knead and shape dough
  • 2 hours to let dough proof
  • 1 hour to slash and bake loaf
  • 2 hours to cool loaf

Essential Tools

  • Parchment paper for transporting dough
  • Dutch oven (at least 6 quarts and preferably enameled cast iron) with tight-fitting lid for proofing and baking dough
  • Bread knife (or single-edge razor blade) for slashing loaf
  • Instant-read thermometer (the best tool for judging doneness in any bread)
    Substitutions & Variations
  • Add nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and herbs as desired, using the variations listed here as guidelines.

Although an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven will yield the best results, the recipe also works in a regular cast-iron Dutch oven or heavy stockpot. Check the knob on your Dutch oven lid, as not all are ovensafe to 425 degrees; look for inexpensive replacement knobs from the manufacturer of your Dutch oven (or try using a metal drawer handle from a hardware store). This dough rises best in a warm kitchen that is at least 68 degrees.

  • 3 cups (15 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • ¾ cup water, room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons mild-flavored lager, such as Budweiser, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
  • Vegetable oil spray
  1. Whisk flour, salt, and yeast together in large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Using rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl, until shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for at least 8 hours or up to 18 hours.
  2. Lay 18 by 12-inch sheet of parchment paper on counter and coat lightly with oil spray. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and knead by hand 10 to 15 times. Shape dough into ball by pulling edges into middle. Transfer loaf, seam side down, to center of greased parchment paper. Using parchment paper as sling, gently lower dough into heavy-bottomed Dutch oven. Mist dough lightly with oil spray, cover loosely with plastic, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 2 hours. (Dough should barely spring back when poked with your knuckle.)
  3. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Lightly flour top of loaf. Using sharp serrated knife, cut ½-inch-deep X into top of loaf. Cover pot and place in oven. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Once oven reaches 425 degrees, bake 30 minutes.
  4. Remove lid and continue to bake until crust is deep golden brown and loaf registers 210 degrees, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove loaf from pot using parchment sling and transfer to wire rack, discarding parchment. Let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours, be fore serving. (Bread is best eaten on day it is baked but will keep wrapped in double layer of plastic and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days. To recrisp crust, place unwrapped bread in 450-degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes.)

ALMOST NO-KNEAD BREAD WITH OLIVES, ROSEMARY, AND PARMESAN

If you prefer black olives, substitute them for the green olives, or try a mix of green and black olives.
Add 2 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese and 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary to flour mixture in step 1. Add 1 cup pitted green olives, chopped, with water.

ALMOST NO-KNEAD SEEDED RYE BREAD

Replace 1⅜ cups all-purpose flour with 1⅛ cups rye flour. Add 2 tablespoons caraway seeds to flour mixture in step 1.

ALMOST NO-KNEAD WHOLE-WHEAT BREAD

Replace 1 cup all-purpose flour with 1 cup whole-wheat flour. Stir 2 tablespoons honey into water before adding it to dry ingredients in step 1.

ALMOST NO-KNEAD CRANBERRY-PECAN BREAD

Add ½ cup dried cranberries and ½ cup toasted pecans to flour mixture in step 1.

A Better Way to Shape Bread Dough

Most free-form loaves require complicated shaping techniques that novice bakers have trouble mastering. In addition to reducing kneading to a simple 30-second operation, this recipe simplifies the shaping process into two easy steps.

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1). Shape dough into ball by pulling edges into middle. Make sure counter is lightly floured and roll dough back and forth between your hands to form neat ball.

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2). Transfer dough to large sheet of greased parchment paper then transfer paper and dough to Dutch oven. Dutch oven is conveniently used for both proofing and baking dough.

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