How to Make the Easiest, Cheapest, and Most Delicious Bread You’ve Ever Tasted
Also, those looking for the bare-boned actual recipe without the benefit of walk trough should feel free to skip to the end.
The Wonder of Fresh Baked Bread
I’ve only ever stolen one thing in my life, and in true Valjeanean fashion it was a loaf of bread.
It was during my freshman year at college, and directly across the street from my dormitory sat a Franz Bread bakery. (For those not in the Pacific Northwest, Franz is kind of the local low-end bread you find at pretty much every supermarket.) Late at night Sunday through Wednesday, well after midnight, the bakery would bake bread on an industrial scale. If you were up at 2:00 in the morning with your windows open the smell would come wafting in, and suddenly you’d be starving. After bacon, I’m not sure that there’s a more iconic delicious smell than fresh baked bread, and night after night we’d make noise about how one of these nights we were going to sneak in the factory and steal a loaf.
And then one night, probably due to some combination of double-dare, alcohol, and cute girls hanging out with us, I actually did it.
I had to climb a chain link fence, but after that it was astoundingly easy. The back door was propped open with a brick, presumably to provide the workers with a cool breeze. Ten yards from the door was a conveyor belt with loaf after loaf being whisked by on their way to the slicing machine. There was no one at all in sight. I ran in and… errr… pinched a loaf, then darted back outside, over the fence, and back into the dorm. We had no knives, so we all just tore off pieces and ate it as it. My mom didn’t really bake ever anything other than Christmas cookies, and so that was my first ever taste of out-of-the-oven fresh bread; at that moment it was the best thing I had ever tasted. A few of my dorm mates went ahead and scaled the bakery fence several times in the weeks that followed but the door was always closed and locked, and thus was my life of crime nipped in the bud. Still, that loaf of cheap Franz bread remained my all-time favorite bread-eating experience for decades.
Those who are regular readers know that while I’m a full-throated gastrophile and culinarian, I’ve never really been a baker of anything — especially bread. I have always found the thought of baking bread a little intimidating. For years friends who have known this about me have urged me to buy a bread machine, but I’ve always resisted that route — partially because I find machine bread to be overly dense, and partially because throwing a bag of pre-made mix into a hole and hitting an ‘On’ button doesn’t feel to me like making bread.
And then this recipe came into my life.
I make this bread several times a week now. My son prefers it to store-bought for sandwiches, my spouse prefers it to store-bought for toast, and I prefer it to store-bought for basically everything. It’s unbelievably simple; there’s no kneading, and though the dough itself needs time to both rise and bake the amount of time you actually spend making it is five to ten minutes, tops. Plus, it’s the perfect cheap-ass gourmet pantry item: A loaf of high-end fresh bread at my grocer sells for anywhere between $5.00 and $8.00 a loaf; a loaf of cheap, crappy bread is anywhere from $2.50 to $4.00. The total cost of ingredients for a loaf of this bread is somewhere between one and two quarters. And as if all of that isn’t enough, it makes the house smell divine.
The recipe below has its roots in a New York Times article by Mark Bittman, but it also takes bits and pieces from other food bloggers who have attempted to play with it over the past year (such as the great parchment-paper idea devised by the gal at Steamy Kitchen), as well as some off-the-cuff suggestions from my wife.
If you’ve never baked bread or anything else before, try this. Heck, try it even if you have baked bread before.
How to Make Knead-less Bread: The Walk Through
First off, let’s take a look at all of the things you’ll need (or want) to have on hand:
As you can see, to make the dough you’ll need some all-purpose flour, some yeast, some salt, some olive oil, and some warm water. Equipment wise, you’ll also need a bowl, a covered pot that can go into the oven such as a dutch oven, a spoon for stirring, a plastic bag, and some cook’s parchment paper. (Note: You can do it all without the parchment paper, but it really is an enormous help.)
Start out by combining all the dry ingredients: Three cups of flour, 1/4 teaspoon of yeast, and 1 barely heaping teaspoon of salt. Toss ‘em in the bowl and give a quick stir.
Now, I will let you know right here that some of the recipes I have read for this call for the flour to be sifted, and so to be safe I use the Poor Man’s Sift.
If you are unfamiliar with the Poor Man’s Sift, it’s done like this:
Overfill a measuring cup with flour. Then, holding it over the flour bag, poke and and/or lightly stir the flour. (My wife is a stirrer; I am a poker. We still somehow are married to one another.) Whichever method you use, you will notice two things happening: The flour will quickly feel less packed as you move the knife, and most of the excess flour will fall away into the bag. (Important note: You do not actually have to do this, but since I did it the first time and it came out perfect…)
Afterwards, pour in one and a half cups of warm water. Stir until the entire mixture is one sticky, gloppy, amorphously-shaped ball of dough. This will take all of 30-60 seconds, and it will look something like this:
Now drizzle a wee bit of olive oil on the top, and use your hand to lightly spread the oil over the top. I find that this helps make an especially crispy and delicious top crust once it’s baked.
After you’ve oiled the dough, lightly cover the bowl with a plastic bag. Are you fussing about how it’s covered? Well, knock it off. Just toss something on it to keep the draft out and set it aside, and don’t worry about it. It’s going to be just fine. Trust me.
Let it sit there for 12-20 hours — and, for the record, I have let my dough sit for 12, 20, and many other numbers in-between, and it’s never affected the outcome one way or another, so don’t worry about where in that range you want to be.
Now go do something else. Read a book. Go out to dinner and a movie. Forget about the bread dough for a while! Go live your life. Seriously, you worry too much. Come back sometime tomorrow.
Hey, is it tomorrow already? Man, time flies!
Let’s take a look at the dough:
As you can see, it is now more than twice as large as it was the day before. From the TV and movies I watched growing up, I know that a problem they used to have in Japan was when tiny animals were exposed to radiation, they would grow to gigantic sizes and destroy Tokyo over and over again. This is basically what happened to your bread dough overnight, only instead of radiation it was yeast and instead of it destroying Tokyo you’re going to eat it with cheese or butter. Yet another reason why I’m a yeast-over-radiation guy. (Well, that and alcohol.)
Take a sheet of parchment paper and brush olive oil over a bunch of it. Or you can skip the brush, like I do, and just use your hand.
Take the dough out of the bowl, and place it on the parchment paper. Using your fingertips, push in any straggly bits along the edges under the rest of the dough, so that it’s somewhat ball-shaped — emphasis on ‘somewhat.’
Using the corners of the parchment paper, pick the dough up and plop it back in the bowl. Cover with the plastic bag again, and set your timer for 90 minutes.
After 90 minutes, place your pot (with lid) into the over, then turn oven on and pre-heat to 450. Set your timer for a half hour.
After the half hour (and, rather obviously, using oven mitts), take the pot out. Again, using the corners of the parchment paper, pick up the ball of dough and drop in the very hot pot. Put the cover back on the pot, put the pot in the oven, and set timer for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, remove the pot lid — because we want that bread to be brown and crusty on top.
Then — and this is important — take a tip from someone who learned this the hard way: Put that pot lid waaaaay back out of the way, and put something like an extra oven mitt on it to remind yourself that it is 450 degrees of freaking galvanized metal and if you accidentally go to reach for it 20 minutes later after you’ve forgotten where it’s been you will be very sorry and need roughly eight ibuprofen tablets and three very large glasses of scotch to save your evening.
Back to the actual baking: Now that you have removed the lid, set your timer for 15-20 minutes.
After your timer goes off, remove pot from oven. Use the corners of the parchment paper one more time (thanks, Steamy Kitchen!), and remove the bread. Place somewhere to cool for five or ten.
Finally, cut that bad boy up and dig in while it’s still toasty warm inside. Don’t skimp! Cut yourself a big, thick slice, and add a bunch of fresh butter! You deserve it! You just make a freaking loaf of fresh bread, for Pete’s sake.
How to Make Knead-less Bread: The Down & Dirty Recipe
For those that just want the recipe, here ya go:
3 Cups All-purpose flour
1/4 Tsp Yeast
1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 1/2 Cups warm water
Olive Oil for drizzling
- Combine all dry ingredients, then stir in water. In less than a minute you will have a pasty dough. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, and use your hand to lightly spread oil over the top. Cover with towel or plastic bag, let sit for 12-20 hours.
- Oil a piece of parchment paper, then place dough on paper. Push straggly bits on the edges under the dough, so that you have a kind-of ball of dough. Using the parchment paper corners as handles, put dough back in bowl. Repeat the olive oil drizzle and hand-spread. Re-cover with plastic bag, let sit for 2 hours.
- A half hour before the two hours is up, place oven-safe pot and lid in oven and preheat to 450.
- After the 2 hours, place parchment paper and dough in pot. Cover, and bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove lid, bake for another 15-20 minutes, until the top of the loaf is browned.
Remove pot from oven, and then remove bread from pot. Let sit for 5-10 minutes, then serve.
[Images taken from Tod’s kitchen]