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Kneadless or Needless, Bread Either Way

By Caroline Clough in Food on Feb 14, 2007 5:20PM


Recipes on the internet are like a nasty cold virus on a school bus, or a David Hasselhoff song in Germany: they get to you, no matter how much Theraflu you ingest or used record stores you frequent. Months ago, we heard about and then read Mark Bittman's New York Times article about a new way to make bread. As you may, or may not, recall we don't consider ourselves very proficient when it comes to baking of any kind, and so we read the article, made a little "hmmm" sound and moved on with our lives. But this is a recipe that will come at you again and again, through food sites of many different shapes and sizes and, more importantly, through emails from relatives. Chicagoist found our mother suddenly baking bread with more frequency due to a series of emails from a close cousin who seemed to be turning out loaves of bread like Rex Grossman turns out, um, lost Super Bowls. The thing that makes this recipe so different from the millions of other recipes out there is that this one requires more time but less work. And by less work we really mean zero kneading. And by more time we really mean about twenty-four hours.

When we told our significant other about this recipe, they asked us whether it was all that much easier than the traditional way to make bread. Frankly, we weren't sure about the answer. As infrequent bread makers, we can't truly compare and contrast the different methods. We can, however, say that this was pretty easy to do. It just required a little counting out of hours on our fingers and a fair amount of faith.

What You Need:
3 cups flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 5/8 cups water
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed (we actually used oatmeal)
2 cotton dish towels
1 6-8 quart, oven-safe, cover-ready pot

What You Do:
february_2007_chicagoistbread1.jpg1. In a big ol' bowl combine your dry ingredients then add the water. Stir until blended, being sure to scrape the sides of the bowl. The version of the recipe we were using (care of our productive cousin) said that the dough would be "shaggy and sticky." We freaked out a little and wondered if our dough fell more into the "globulous and liquidy" category ... so we added a little extra flour.

2. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place for 18 hours. The recipe says you can probably get by with only 12 hours of sitting, but we went with the preferred 18.

3. Once your 18 hours have passed, and we hope you don't just stand in the kitchen staring at the dough (though if that's what you want to do, who are we to judge?), take a look at your dough. It should have bubbles popping out all over it.

february_2007_chicagoistbread2.jpg4. Lightly flour your counter or kitchen table and carefully place dough on it. The dough will be sticky and slightly frightening. Sprinkle a little flour on the dough to prevent your hands from getting permanently affixed to it. Fold the dough over on itself, gently, once or twice then cover it with plastic wrap for 15 minutes.

5. Once your 15 minutes have gone by (this time it's OK if you just stood there and watched, we'd think less of you if you did anything else), flour your hands and quickly shape your dough into a ball ... we had a little trouble keeping our dough in the shape of a ball.

february_2007_chicagoistbread3.jpg6. Spread a good amount of flour and/or oatmeal, bran or cornmeal on one of your cotton towels. Put your dough, seam side down, on the towel. Dust the top with more flour and oatmeal, bran or cornmeal. Cover your dough with the other towel and, yet again, let that sucker sit there ... for two hours. Our recipe said that at the end of the two hours your dough will be doubled in size and "will not readily spring back when poked with a finger." Our dough definitely grew, and the jury's out on its springyness.

7. Half an hour before your dough's time is up, turn your oven on to 450 degrees and place your empty (but covered) pot right on in there.

8. When your dough is ready, take the pot out of the oven, remembering of course that it's hot as hell and can seriously hurt your feelings. Flip your dough into the pot, seam side up. If the dough has lost its ball shape don't worry too much, just make an effort to have the dough relatively even in the pot.

9. Cover that pot right up and stick it, now full of doughy goodness, back into the oven. Bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and bake for another 15 to 30 minutes. We only baked our uncovered bread for 15 minutes. This resulted in a slightly undercooked, moist inside (which we like) and a lightly browned and nicely chewy crust. We only did 15 minutes because we were terrified that we were going to burn the bread. If you prefer a slightly softer bread then 15 minutes will work out. But if you want a more fully realized bread then 30 minutes will do no harm.

10. Take the pot out of the oven. Take the bread out of the pot and let cool. Serve warm with butter, honey, peanut butter, jam, cheese or any other thing you can think of. People will be impressed. Our roommate was impressed any way.

Now the question remains: is this a needless improvement on the baking of bread or a kneadless revolution in the baking of bread? You decide, we'll be Switzerland.