I first tried making Jim Lahey’s now famous no-knead bread when the recipe ran in the New York Times in November 2006 and it was really pretty bad. I ended up with deflated looking loaf, gummy and dense on the inside, with a hard but not crispy crust. I so wanted to believe in the no-knead bread. I tried to tell myself it was delicious. It was not delicious. I tried again a few months later. Again I wanted to believe. I ate a couple slices and then wrapped it in a paper bag. It sat on the counter for a few days, then landed in the trash can with a thunk.
Then the other day I found myself in Williams-Sonoma, face to face with a package of “professional” yeast. It was from France. Clearly this was the answer to all my problems. I decided to have another go.
There are two innovations at work with the no-knead bread. The first is the no-kneading. Let the dough rise for 18 hours and it will more or less knead itself. I always though that kneading was the fun part. The true genius lies in the baking method. The bread is baked in pre-heated dutch oven, with the lid on. This simulates the steam action of a professional oven.
So I brought home my fancy French yeast and tried again. Apparently your supposed to have a pretty wet, sloppy dough. In theory the wetness of the dough allows the gluten to move around easily and form nice long chains. That’s why you don’t have to knead it. But this also causes the dough to spread out in the pan, which i think is why it came out so flat. Well I must have measured the flour wrong, because I ended up with pretty much your standard bread dough. I decided to go ahead and see what happened. I figured maybe a little kneading would do the trick.
I left the dough to rise for the requisite 18 hours and what I had looked very promising. I kneaded the dough for maybe a minute, shaped it into a nice little ball and left it to rise for 2 more hours. Things were looking good so far. When I removed the lid from the dutch oven after half an hour in the oven I nearly cried. It looked like a real live loaf of bread.
When it finally came out of the oven it took all the self control I could muster to let the bread cool a little while before I cut into it. I managed to wait about half an hour before I cut a big hunk off the end. It was full of nice big wholes. And it tasted just like bread. It was delicious.