by Jordan Werner Barry
The Modernist BreadCrumbs team spends a lot of time asking bakers, "Is bread baking an art or a science?" When it comes to Jim Lahey's classic No-Knead Bread, I think it's actually magic. There's no sourdough starter to tend, no kneading to tire your arms; just a little planning and patience—and a Le Creuset dutch oven— is all it takes to create a finished loaf that looks like it was a lot more work. The key ingredient here is time. The long, slow fermentation that happens during the dough's 18 hour resting period creates flavor and makes the whole process work. I like to start mine on Saturday evening, mixing the ingredients and then tucking it in for a good night's sleep. My other fermentation love, cider, usually makes an appearance on my dishtowel (and in my glass).
On Sunday morning, the dough and I wake up at the same time. I don't bake professionally, so it's a whole lot later than most bakers. I make some coffee, unwrap the dough, and get to work. The dough is ready to go if its surface is dotted with bubbles. It's super sticky at this point, so I turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, fold it a couple of times, then loosely re-cover it with plastic wrap for a 15-minute rest. Just the right amount of time to drink my first cup of coffee! Next it's a quick shape and transfer to a floured cotton towel, where the dough rests for another two hours.
Half an hour before the dough is ready, I grab my Le Creuset dutch oven and put it in the oven while it preheats to 450 degrees. The dutch oven's enameled cast iron is perfect for baking—the cast iron maintains even and consistent heat, and the enamel keeps the dough from sticking. When the dough has risen to about double, I (very carefully!) take the dutch oven out of the oven, slide my hand under the towel, and flip the dough into the dutch oven. This part takes some coordination, but don't worry—if you don't quite get the dough in the center of the dutch oven, you can give the whole thing a gentle shake and it will move right into the middle. The lid goes on (to trap the steam that makes the bread nice and crusty), and the whole thing goes into the oven for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, I remove the lid to let the crust get really brown. I bake it for 15-30 more minutes, and voila! Crusty, bready magic. After it cools on a rack, I slather a slice with Vermont butter and try not to eat the whole loaf right then and there.
- 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour (plus more for dusting surfaces)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 5/8 cups water
Recipe is adapted from Jim Lahey's famous No-Knead Bread recipe, as printed in the New York Times. According to Mark Bittman, it's one of the most popular recipes they've ever published!