Shape this Versatile Dough into a Sandwich Loaf or a Boule
Do you shy away from making homemade bread? Afraid it will take too much time and effort? A lot of people feel the same way.
Well, fear no more. Because with surprisingly little effort, you can make a loaf of bread that’s better than any of the commercial packaged stuff you buy at the grocery store. One that even rivals the pricey artisan bread sold at specialty bakeries.
When I say a “little effort,” I mean it. This recipe will take you about 10 minutes of active time. No proofing the yeast, no kneading (though you do have to let the dough rise for a few hours).
The result is a yeast-forward white bread with superlative flavor. You can use it to make sandwiches, yet it’s crusty enough to serve at your fanciest dinner party. And the same dough works equally well as a loaf or as a rustic boule.
Once you taste it, you may never bother with store bought bread again.
About This Bread
Here are a few things you might want to know before baking this bread (although you can skip right down to the recipe if you’re so inclined; there’s nothing in this section that’s essential to preparation).
When we think “white sandwich bread,” many of us (at least in the US) picture Wonder Bread. With its squishy texture and flaccid crust, it makes a convenient vehicle for a slice of bologna, but that’s about all.
So let’s be clear upfront: This recipe doesn’t produce anything resembling Wonder Bread. Our no-knead recipe makes bread with a reasonably substantial crust — so if you want something you can gum rather than chew, that’s not what you’re getting. But the crust isn’t brittle, so it works fine for a sandwich. This bread isn’t as shatteringly crisp as a French baguette, but it has body and structure. So if you bake it in a boule shape, it’s right at home at a dinner party.
This bread has a more open crumb structure than your typical sandwich bread (“crumb” just means how one defines the inside of bread; there’s a good explanation — with pictures — at Artisan Bakers.) Having an open crumb structure means that the holes in a slice of this bread are larger and more irregular than the tight, fine pores of Wonder Bread. The crumb structure results from high hydration (lots of water content), combined with no-knead preparation.
If we introduced steam to the oven while baking this, the crust would become crunchy like a French baguette. In this recipe, however, we’re not adding steam, so the crust comes out a bit more chewy than crunchy (but it’s still leaning towards the “crusty”).
This method of bread making has been around for ages, but many of us first learned about it in an article by Mark Bittman, in a November 2006 New York Times article. Bittman learned the technique from Jim Lahey, who subsequently published My Bread, a cookbook detailing how to make all kinds of no-knead breads. Around the same, time Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois published Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The two books present somewhat different methods (Lahey uses a low-yeast method, which allows the flavor of the wheat to come forward; Hertzberg and Francois use a high-yeast method, in which the flavor of yeast dominates), but both are quite good.
Recipe: Easy No-Knead Homemade Bread
In the past, I’ve baked plenty of bread, but lately Mrs. Kitchen Riffs has become the bread baker in our household, and she adapted this recipe. You can use the same basic recipe (with some adjustments noted in the Ingredients section) to make either two sandwich loaves or one large boule (a round or oblong loaf).
For the sandwich loaves, you can use any standard loaf pan that measures 9 x 5 x 3 inches. Nonstick pans work well (but grease them anyway; this dough is so wet that it may stick to the pan if you don’t). If you use Pyrex loaf pans, you can reduce your oven temperature by about 25 degrees F.
For baking a boule, we use an oblong Dutch oven with a 4-quart capacity. But you can use any deep pot or pan that’s ovenproof. (Note: In this recipe, we’re not preheating the Dutch oven, nor are we covering it with a lid. Doing so would produce a crunchier crust, but that’s a recipe for another day.)
This recipe is adapted from Nick Fox’s November 2007 New York Times article, Soon the Bread Will Be Making Itself (which in turn was adapted from the book by Hertzberg and Francois). It makes 2 loaves of sandwich bread or 1 large boule, depending on which ingredient measurements you choose.
Hands-on preparation time is about 10 minutes. Unattended rising time is 4 hours minimum. Baking time is 30 minutes. At almost any point before baking, you can put the dough in the refrigerator and pull it out when you’re ready to continue (see Notes).
For two loaves of sandwich bread:
- 5¼ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting dough
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast (see Notes)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2½ cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees)
- 2 tablespoons butter for greasing loaf pans; or substitute baking spray
- 4 scant cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting dough
- ¾ tablespoon instant yeast
- ¾ tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 scant cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons butter for greasing loaf pans; or substitute baking spray
- In a large bowl, whisk flour, yeast, and salt together. Add lukewarm water and stir with a wooden spoon (just enough to mix together, with no dry patches). Dough will be loose and wet. Cover with a dishtowel. Let dough rise at room temperature for at least 3 hours (up to 5 hours).
- Proceed with the rest of the recipe at this point or refrigerate, covered in plastic wrap, for as long as two weeks.
- If making 2 loaves: When ready to bake, grease two loaf pans (see headnotes). Place dough on floured board and sprinkle lightly with extra flour. Cut dough in half with serrated knife. Take one half of dough and pull/stretch into a longish strand (dough will be very loose). Then form into an oval shape. Place in a greased loaf pan. Repeat with second half of dough. Let dough rise in pans for at least one hour if fresh (two is better), plus an extra hour if refrigerated.
- If making a boule: When ready to bake, grease a round or oval Dutch oven or pan (see headnotes). Pull/stretch dough into a longish strand (dough will be very loose). Then form into an oval shape. Place in greased pan. Let dough rise in pan for at least one hour if fresh (two is better), plus an extra hour if refrigerated.
- Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place loaf pan(s) on middle rack and bake for 30 minutes. The bread is done when an instant-read thermometer measures 200 degrees F.
- Like most bread dough, this takes well to refrigeration. If you want to slow down the rising process at any time, simply pop the dough into the refrigerator. We most often refrigerate after placing the dough in baking pans (Step 3 or 4). But you can refrigerate right after mixing the dough (Step 1) if you prefer.
- If you’re making the 2-loaf recipe and want just one loaf, you can refrigerate the dough, divide it (Step 3), and then place one half back in the refrigerator.
- We often mix the bread dough one day, bake part of it the next, and the rest of it a few days later.
- We specify all-purpose flour because that’s what most of us have in our kitchens. We like King Arthur unbleached flour. If you like, you can substitute bread flour; if you do so, you may find you need just a bit less flour than the recipe calls for.
- White flour, of course, isn’t as healthy as whole wheat flour. And in commercial bread, it isn’t as flavorful — which is why many of us buy whole wheat. But we have discovered that this bread has much more flavor than most commercial whole-wheat breads. Because it’s so good (we’ve been eating a lot more bread lately!), we have not been in a hurry to develop a whole-wheat version. But eventually we will.
- We use instant yeast because it’s so easy. You don’t need to “proof” it — you can just mix it in with the other ingredients. You can also use cold ingredients; the yeast will still do its thing.
- If you buy instant yeast in bulk (it’s available in 1-pound packages), you can store it in an airtight container in the freezer for a couple of years. It’s much, much cheaper when you buy in bulk.
- You can substitute active dry yeast if you want. You’ll need about 1¼ tablespoons for the 2-loaf recipe, or about 1 tablespoon for the boule. In Step 1, dissolve the yeast in the warm water (you can proof it if you want, but as long as it hasn’t expired, there’s really no need); then add the salt and flour.
- Because this recipe uses quite a bit of yeast, it has a very yeast-forward flavor, which most people like.
- We suggest using warm water just to speed the rising process; you can use cold water if you want — it will just take longer.
- Make sure the water is truly lukewarm, not hot. You don’t want to kill the yeast.
- Hydration facilitates gluten formation and helps the yeast do its work. This recipe has a high water content — which is one reason you don’t have to knead the dough.
- An instant-read thermometer is perfect for checking the internal temperature of almost anything you bake or cook. Most of the ones you can buy are accurate, although some may take 10 or 15 seconds to accurately record temperatures. My favorite instant read thermometer is the Thermapen. These are accurate to less than 1 degree F, and take a reading in 3 seconds or less. The downside? They’re pricey (about $89). But they’re worth it.
- Slicing this bread is easiest with a serrated bread knife or an electric knife.
- Because there’s no fat in this bread, it will begin to stale in about 24 hours. To prolong its life, we freeze it. You can freeze a loaf whole and then slice as needed, but slicing frozen bread can be difficult. So we slice it before it goes into the freezer, placing small squares of parchment paper between the slices so they don’t freeze together. We double wrap the bread before freezing (put it in a plastic bag, and then into a freezer bag). When ready to use, we just pull out as many slices as we want.
- BTW, this bread makes some of the best toast you’ll ever eat.
- When making toast for a crowd, the easiest way is to put the bread on a baking sheet and slide it under the broiler. Watch carefully, because when it begins to brown, it can burn in a hurry. Once the top is browned, flip and toast the other side.
The Staff of Life (Really)
Mrs. Kitchen Riffs and I were having a big weekend breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast. The toast was getting a lot of love. The rest of it? Not so much.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have made so many eggs,” I said as I buttered my second piece of toast.
“Or bacon,” Mrs K R agreed as she took a bite of her jam-coated slice.
We’ve all heard bread called the “staff of life.” And so it was, for thousands of years — ever since our ancestors started cultivating grains in the Neolithic. Even today, we talk about “bread winners” and “putting bread on the table.”
But the packaged stuff so many of us eat today tastes like — well, nothing at all. Who would want to live on that? So it was a treat to bite into bread that was, well, really worth eating.
“Should we make another round of toast?” asked Mrs K R.
I loaded up a baking sheet with slices of bread and slid it under the broiler. And pondered what I could make with leftover scrambled eggs and bacon.
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