The foodie corner of these here Internets has been all abuzz in the last few weeks over a recipe that the thoroughly unlikable Mark Bittman shared with the NYT. It's adapted from Jim Lahey of Manhattan's Sullivan Street Bakery. Over at CooksTalk, we've had more posts on this thread than any other in anyone's memory. It's created a remarkable stir.
Before I had kids, I used to bake bread frequently. Baguettes at least weekly, the occasional challah or toastbread loaf, a batch of rolls or breadsticks. I think it's fair to say that since starting our family 10 years ago, I have made bread fewer than a dozen times. It's not that it's so hard or so time-consuming; it just rarely occurs to me to do it these days. Well, this recipe is so quick and so easy that you will be tempted to make it every single day. (When I say quick, I of course mean the active time; the secret to the no-kneading method is a l-o-n-g first rising time.) I promise you, if you've never made bread or if you've had only disastrous results from traditional bread recipes, you can do this one. And if you keep yeast in the house, you can begin this recipe anytime and have gorgeous fresh bread the next day.
My first loaf was slightly underdone, but that didn't stop me from scarfing down almost the entire thing myself. My second loaf was prettier. The folks have CooksTalk have used every possible combination of flours, extended the rising time by hours, and used a variety of different baking vessels. Everything works. This is an extremely forgiving formula. (Update 12/9: Mark Bittman has published an addendum of sorts, with more guidelines for varying this recipe.) So here you go:
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting (I used all-purpose flour the first time and bread flour thereafter. Bread flour is better; I just didn't have any on hand the first time I did it.)
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast (The original recipe calls for 1/4 tsp, but the CooksTalkers recommend upping that to 1/2 tsp for better rise. Update: Yikes! A reader just pointed out to me that I had been using one entire envelope of yeast, which contains 1/4 oz., or 2 1/4 tsp! Thanks, Jon!)
2 teaspoons salt (The original recipe calls for 1 1/4 tsp, but I thought it needed a touch more flavor.)
In a large bowl combine flour, yeast, and salt. Add 1 1/2 cups water (I used very warm—but not hot—tap water. The original recipe called for 1 5/8 cups, but the accompanying video, and lots of users' recommendations, say 1 1/2 cups works better.) and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70°.
Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour (or cornmeal); put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour (or cornmeal). Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450°. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. (I used my #28 Le Creuset. Bittman says that the plastic knob can withstand temperatures up to only 400°, but I called Le Creuset and was told that 450° was fine. I had to call them anyhow, because Andy dropped the lid when we were making arroz con pollo and the knob shattered into a bazillion pieces. They're sending me a new one, free of charge!) When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is OK. (This sounds more complicated than it is. Just dump the dough into the pot any old way.) Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. (And even if it doesn't, your finished loaf will have that "artisanal" look!) Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
If you try this technique, let me know how it turns out!