Bread is a great provider, but was such a mystery to me. The dark ones were the most seductive, made of rye and pumpernickel, lined up at the small grocery stores in Queens, and the thick grainy ones that were easily snapped up in neighbourhood bakeshops in Berlin. I also love the innovative rye bread from Cloudstreet restaurant in Singapore, which is flavoured with stout beer and brushed with liquorice. Oh, the good days of travelling to eat seem like an alternate timeline now.
Because baking is fairly new to me versus cooking, I wanted to finally understand this mystery of bread, why bakers obsess over the rise and texture of dough, why some of them cultivate their own bakers' yeast (but haven't reached the point to do so yet. Haha). The recipe below for Dutch oven bread requires no kneading, and only uses 4 ingredients: flour, instant or active dry yeast, salt and water. Oh, you can also opt to use cornmeal, almond flour, wheat bran, rolled oats or almond nuts for the topping. So that makes it 5 ingredients.
One of the best cooking investments I've made is getting a Le Creuset Dutch oven (or as the French company cheekily calls it in its website and manuals, a French oven). Its hefty weight and enamel-coated cast iron can withstand high blasts of heat, and its versatility shows in the number of dishes one can do with it, which is pretty much a lot, be it a stew, roast, or baked bread.
You can even mix the ingredients inside the Dutch oven if you don't have a large-enough mixing bowl. A little heads up though: resting time between making the dough and letting it double in size will take between 15-18 hours, but you can make good use of this time by making the dough in the evening, sleeping it off, then continue the next day. See, it's kneadlessly easy. ;-) Let's do this.
Cooking time: 45 minutes
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon active dry yeast or 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast*
1 heaping teaspoon sea salt
1.5 cups water
Almond flour, cornmeal, wheat bran, rolled oats or additional flour as needed
*Update as of 11 April 2020: there will of course be a difference in the end result of your bread, depending on the amount of time you allow it to rise, as well as the amount of yeast. I made another batch with an initial resting time of 18 hours, and doubled the yeast measurement from above (if you are using active dry yeast, that would be 2 teaspoons, mixed in 1/4 cup water, and if instant yeast, use 1 teaspoon). You can also substitute the yeast with starter.
1. Combine flour, yeast and salt in Dutch oven or a large bowl. Pour water slowly, not altogether, and stir with spatula until all the ingredients are blended. Cover bowl with cling wrap. Let dough rest between 12 to 15 hours at room temperature, or cold-proofing overnight from 18 to 22 hours inside the refrigerator.
Here's how the dough looked like at different times:
Left: 10.30 pm the night before; Right: 11.30 am the next day
2. Dough should be ready when it feels spongey and the surface has bubbles like the photo on the top-right. Transfer the dough (be careful as it feels like holding liquid bubble wrap) to a tea towel on a flat surface. Sprinkle some more flour on the dough and fold it into itself once or twice. Cover with the towel and let it rest for 15 minutes.
3. Coat the palms of your hands with some flour. Quickly lift the dough and gently shape it into a ball. Bring it down to the surface, seam side up, and dust with more flour. Cover with the towel, and let it rest for another 2 hours. This time allows the dough to rise further. It should be ready when you poke the side of the dough and it doesn't spring back.
Spot the difference between the 2 photos: between 12 pm and 2pm
4. About half an hour before baking, or within the 1 hour and 30 minute-mark of letting the ball of dough rest and rise (are you still with me?), heat the oven to 230 Celsius. Place the covered Dutch oven inside to heat it up on its own for 30 minutes. Make sure you turn on your kitchen exhaust fan and your aircon, because this part gets super hot. And make sure you protect yourself with heavy gloves (no flimsy kitchen gloves please) and extra towels to absorb the heat!
5. After 30 minutes, carefully remove the Dutch oven and place on a flat solid surface, or even on the floor, because remember, the pot is still absorbing heat. Remove the lid. Now, here's the fun part: take the ball of dough with the towel, carefully unwrap it, and quickly plunk the dough seam-side-up into the Dutch oven. Shake the pan to evenly distribute the dough. Don't worry if it looks asymmetrical or lumpy; once you put the whole thing back in the oven, it will all even out. Cover the lid. Put the Dutch oven back into the main oven. Set the time to 30 minutes. Cool off and drink something refreshing.
6. After half an hour, again, carefully remove the Dutch oven and remove the lid. Your bread will start browning like this:
Brush some olive oil on top of the bread and sprinkle some almond flakes or rolled oats.
7. Now, put it back in the oven, uncovered, and bake for another 15 minutes, until the top becomes golden brown, like this:
Put on top of wax paper or a wire rack, and let the bread cool for about 10 to 15 minutes. I was so elated to see the result that I had to take a video of my very first bread before it got devoured.
I can keep staring at these asymmetrical air pockets...
But hungry mouths await. Forgive my lack of knife skills.
There you go, no-knead bread! You can serve this on top of a wooden board with olive oil dip and a few sprinkles of pink or sea salt.