I have been searching for years, experimenting, trying different recipes in my attempts to find the perfect, easy to make bread recipe. I have 3 (Three) bread machines. I have tried to make sourdough starter and sourdough bread, in most cases what I got had more in common with beer than bread. Nothing had that perfect mix of:
Nice crispy crust.
Nice big bubbly holes.
Didn't require lots of work.
Yesterday In what was probably my last attempt I googled "crispy bread crust" and stumbled upon the greatest non secret on the Internet, "Bittman's no knead bread". Everywhere I clicked people were raving about it. I read several blogs and even found the original video that shows how to make it. I had to try it immediately. First here is the video:
Now the recipe:
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast (Fleishmann's Highly active yeast)
1¼ teaspoons salt
Room temperature or cooler water.
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.
1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Mix the dry ingredients thoroughly, then add 1 & 1/2 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with lid or plastic wrap (not air tight). Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at room temperature, between 70 & 80 degrees.
2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles and has expanded 2 to 3 times original size. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself 4 times (DO NOT SQUISH).
3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball do not squash or knead. Generously coat a cotton tea towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran 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.
4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats (no plastic). 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 okay. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes (check every ten minutes), until loaf is beautifully browned. If not sure take the breads internal temperature, it should be between 190 and 195 degrees. Cool on a rack for 30 minutes.
Makes One, 1½-pound loaf.
The hardest part of making this bread is transferring the risen dough to my dutch oven without it collapsing too much.
Several points to know if you want to make this bread.
Watch the video.
Do not use regular yeast.
Do not skimp on the salt.
If you use kosher salt use 1 and 3/4 teaspoons.
Do not pat, punch, squish, or otherwise rough up this dough in anyway.
You must use a dutch oven or some other lidded pot at least 1/4 inch thick.
When mixing the dough, the instant it comes together in a single mass, STOP cover it and walk away.
Just before you put the dough in the heated dutch oven cover the dutch oven bottom with cornmeal or wheat bran, DO NOT spray with Pam or use oil as it will instantly smoke and make the bread taste funny.
If you want a crispy crust the next day, place the bread in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes.
Here are the pics I took.
The first picture is right after I mixed it, The second was The next morning about 12 hours later (it makes snap, crackle, pop sounds). I forgot to take a picture just before I shaped it 18 hours later, or after it was shaped.
The third picture was taken after I removed it from the Dutch oven and the last picture was after Kathi and I ate some of it. I actually over mixed it or the bubbles would have been bigger.
Now the science:
The reason for the instant yeast is that it is mixed with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) yeast get hyper active in the presence of vitamin c. Regular yeast could be used but you will need 3 times as much and it still won't give you quite the same results. The salt is there to slow down the yeast, and because it is not overly mixed the individual salt grains create localized areas where the yeast don't grow as well. The hyper active yeast make big bubbles in the dough. Letting it ferment for 18 hours adds flavor to the bread. If you smell it just before you shape it, it will smell a little bit like booze, as the yeast have turned some of the natural sugars in the bread to alcohol. Folding the bread 4 times creates crevices, when the bread is turned upside down in the dutch oven, these crevices open up and allow steam to escape. The dutch oven creates a miniature steam injection oven which is what makes the crust perfectly crisp.