This week we were gifted a gorgeous little red Le Creuset dutch oven! I’ve always wanted one of these classic pieces, especially for bread baking. I’ve been obsessing over what I’ll make for the pot’s initiation-bake, and I’ve settled on the ever-so-popular no knead bread recipe of Jim Lahey’s. If you’ve dabbled in bread baking at home even a smidge then you’ve heard of Jim. His no knead, minimalist technique has been all the rage since 2006 when the NY Times published his recipe in The Minimalist column. His methods promise that any amateur cook can bake gorgeous air-pocketed crusty topped bread, all you have to do is measure your ingredients properly and have 24 hours or more patience. Patience is the key word here. You will blend the ingredients together and allow them to rest together overnight before doing any shaping or final rising, so if you want to try this recipe out: be sure to plan ahead, you can’t prepare this loaf same-day.
A couple of years ago I bought a pizza stone for my oven, it comes in handy mostly for pizza and foccaccia-like breads, but overall it helps even out heat distribution for the baking of all things. It was a good (and cheap) purchase, that’s actually made a noticeable difference in my baked goods, but I’ve still not come across a simple bread recipe that isn’t too labor intensive yet still packs a texture punch with a nice crust. Obviously our home kitchens aren’t equipped with steam producing ovens for that extra crisp bread we all want, and I’m too lazy to screw around with spray bottling the oven interior (especially considering the giant exodus of hot air every time you open the door!). Dutch ovens seem to be the best way to get all the qualities you want in a loaf without the hassle. It may take longer to wait for the gluten to develop with the low-slow rest and the high water content, but it’s worth the wait when you barely have to do any real work to it! Because the dough is very wet and risen over a long period of time: the gluten formation is encouraged without all the kneading and fussing. So hence you see: less fuss = longer wait. Using a dutch oven helps contain the moisture that’s released from the loaf during baking (since it’s such a wet dough) which gives the crackling crust without the steam injection or spray bottling of your oven.
The recipe here calls for “all purpose flour or bread flour”, and for my first attempt here I’ve used all purpose flour. I plan to prep another batch of dough this week using bread flour to compare the two. I actually came across this version of the recipe on the Le Creuset website, and they list specifically all purpose flour. I’ve also used cornmeal to stop the loaf from sticking in the pot, and for the next loaf I’ll try just flour alone, in hopes of achieving a nicer looking exterior.
The verdict: super crusty, gorgeously holed and moist interior. Just plain lovely.
No Knead Bread: yields 1 loaf in a 3.5-5 L dutch oven
3 cups all purpose (or bread) flour
1/4 tsp dry instant yeast
1+1/2 tsp salt
1+1/2 cups warm or room temperature water
-Blend together the yeast, salt, and flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the water, and stir together with a wooden spoon or spatula until the dough resembles a shaggy, sticky mass.
-Cover well, and leave at room temperature overnight, at least 12 hours.
-Dust a countertop with flour and dump out the dough onto it. Flour your hands and grabbing the dough along one side; fold it over itself two or three times, cover again (with a floured towel or large bowl) and rest another 15 minutes.
-Dust your hands with flour again and carefully shape the mass of dough into a round ball, and with the seam side down place the mass onto another flour and/or cornmeal covered towel. Cover it with the original towel and rest at warm room temperature for an additional and final 2 hours.
-30 minutes before the end of your final resting of the dough; preheat your oven to 450F with a 3.5-5L dutch oven inside.
-Carefully lift the dough off of the towel, trying not to deflate it, and place it in the preheated dutch oven seam side up. Having the seam side up allows for a natural line of venting for the moisture to escape from the loaf during baking.
-Bake at 450F for 30 minutes with the lid on. After 30 minutes remove the lid and continue to bake for an additional 20-30 minutes. I baked mine for 1 hour total to get a nice dark crust.
-Remove the loaf from the oven and place onto a wire rack for 1-2 hours to cool before cutting. Do not cut into the loaf before it’s completely cooled, the crumb inside needs time to set up.
Note! – If your dutch oven does not have a stainless steel handle on it’s lid, be sure to remove it due to the high oven temperature. You can double check the heat rating of your dutch oven handle online if you’re not sure. Stuff a small piece of tinfoil into the hole to prevent steam from escaping during baking.