For anyone who’s been following my desperate Tweets about bread making, you know by now that my past failures were due to insanely old (spec. 10-year-old) flour in the kitchen cupboard. So before you try this recipe, go buy new flour. It can be all-purpose or bread flour, or a combination of one of those and whole wheat. Doesn’t really matter, just make sure it’s FRESH!!!
I am not an expert.
Now, I’m going to briefly list the lessons I’ve learned over the past 6 months while learning to bake bread. And I’m by no means an expert, I mean SERIOUSLY, 6 months does not an expert make. I’m still a novice but thanks to some great pals, learning faster.
Snarky’s lessons in bread baking.
- Use only fresh flour. It can be difficult to smell when flour is rancid because it’s not as obnoxious as rancid canola oil so play it safe and buy a new bag.
- Keep your flour in an airtight container. I use a giant Rubbermaid thing.
- Keep your flour container easily accessible or you won’t make bread if the container is too heavy to pull from the cupboard easily.
- Use another smaller plastic lidded container to mix your dough so you’re not polluting the landfill with plastic wrap. My mixing container holds 14 cups/3.3 liters and it’s a squarISH Rubbermaid w/rounded corners, not a totally round tub. Since I have no room in the fridge for dough containers, I only make one batch at a time on the counter. Instructions in those no-knead books often call for a hugeass bucket in your fridge. Honestly, where would I put the beer?!
- Choose a glass bowl for the second rise and just invert your 14-cup plastic container over it rather than use that evil plastic wrap or a towel that seems to stick to the dough. This means your glass bowl has to fit under your plastic bowl. The main benefits to my method are no cat hairs, beard hairs or husbands who accidentally plop their dirty dishes on top of your dough during the second rise.
- Experiment with your oven temperatures to see what works best in your specific oven. Mine is a 24-inch wide apartment-sized oven with gas heat radiating from the bottom so I tend to get burned bottoms on my loaves. Tweaks I’ve made due to my oven structure include: raising the rack on the highest setting that still allows room for my dutch oven and its lid, placing a second rack a few inches below the dutch oven rack for an old cookie sheet to help dissipate the heat from the bottom of the loaf, and try preheating at 500F then lowering temperature to 450 or 400 after popping in the loaf.
If you’re getting burned bottoms on your loaves, try: using a darker colored dutch oven (the dark finish on the interior of mine is gone and my smaller dutch oven with a dark interior finish doesn’t burn the bottoms), try lining your dutch oven with parchment paper before putting the dough into it, or try sprinkling some corn meal in the dutch oven. Unfortunately none of these completely eliminated the burnt bottoms on mine but they aren’t as bad. But they may help with your oven setup.
- To add more flavor to your bread try adding 1/4 to 1 teaspoon of red wine vinegar to the water before mixing your dough. Or if you want a slightly sweeter bread, add a little sugar to the dough. I add 1/4 cup sugar to whole wheat bread but sometimes only a tablespoon to bread flour dough. The red wine vinegar seems to me to taste better in white bread rather than whole wheat but that may be just my own preference.
SnarkyVegan’s whole wheat no-knead bread experiment.
I got an awesome crust, texture and flavor with this recipe but am still plagued by a burnt bottom on the loaf. The only thing I can do next to try to alleviate this issue is to buy a dutch oven with a darker interior or try a cast iron dutch oven rather than Caphalon. Buying a stove with a larger oven is just not an option right now.
- 3 cups flour, I mixed 2 cups whole wheat and 1 cup all-purpose
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon dry yeast, from a jar, nothing fancy
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 13 ounces—just over 1.5 cups—of warm water from tap between 110 and 115F (*see note after recipe)
- Using a wooden spoon, mix your dry ingredients in the plastic lidded container.
- Measure out your warm water and add your red wine vinegar to it then pour into the dry mixture.
- Mix dough well so all dry bits are incorporated. It will be what they call a ‘shaggy dough’, not a neat ball but not pourable either. I scrape the bits off the sides of the bowl to get everything mixed in and then scrape the dough off the spoon.
- Put the lid on your bowl so 3 corners are secure and leave one corner not secure. There will be gas developing inside the bowl so don’t seal it securely but do put a weight on it like a measuring cup to keep it from getting jostled by husbands looking for cookies.
- Set the bowl on a kitchen counter, not in a cold window, for 16-20 hours. I aim for 18 hours but have been known to forget about it until the 20 hour mark. It still worked.
Materials for next day:
- glass bowl
- rubber spatula
- dutch oven
- corn meal/flour mix, I keep a mixture of this 50/50 in a small recycled carryout container and use this to sprinkle on the counter and in the bowl for the second rise so I don’t get too much flour in the dough
Steps for baking day: There is a picture reference after the steps below.
- At the 18-hour mark, sprinkle some corn meal/flour on your counter and in your glass bowl.
- Using the rubber spatula, scrape/pour/push your dough out onto the sprinkled counter, GENTLY. Plopping will make a mess on your shirt and you’re likely to sneeze on the dough.
- Gently tug and fold the four sides of the dough over as if you’re folding an envelope. No need to do this a lot, I do it just enough to make the dough take a neater shape.
- Gently lift the dough and place it in the glass bowl with the folded side DOWN.
- I have a micro-sized kitchen so this is where I set the bowl aside and quickly wipe up the mess on the counter so I can continue working. I also rinse out the Rubbermaid bowl so I can invert it over the glass bowl instead of using plastic wrap.
- After inverting the plastic bowl over the glass bowl for the second rise of 1 and 3/4 hours, I watch the dough and if it gets high enough to touch the plastic bowl, I just raise it up on bottle caps or lids so the dough can rise without flattening. Probably too much fuss on my part but that’s just me.
- At the 1 and 3/4 hour mark, preheat the oven to 500F with the dutch oven and its lid inside.
- In about 15 minutes, you’re going to pull the preheated dutch oven out, remove the lid, transfer the dough via parchment paper into the dutch oven so that the seam side of the dough is facing UP.
- Replace the lid quickly and pop that baby back into the oven and turn the temperature down to 450F.
- At about 20 minutes, I turn the temperature down to 400F.
- In 10 more minutes, I remove the lid of the dutch oven and lower the temperature to 350F.
- In 15-20 more minutes, I pull the loaf and use a thermometer to check its internal temperature. If it’s about 200F, I’m done. I put it on a rack to cool and then enjoy the residual heat from the oven.
I know there are recipes online that have fewer steps and seem simpler. I’ve simply tried to outline here all the wee little things that make it work for me and answer some of the many questions that I had when starting.
*Warm Water Note: All the recipes I found online called for 1 and 1/2 cups water but I found through experimenting that I get more lift in the loaf if I used a teensy bit more water. It added a bit more moisture which works great in the dutch oven method. I have NOT tried the above recipe on a baking stone so it may spread too much on a stone, I have no idea. I also use a thermometer to check the heat of the water so I don’t kill my yeast. No one else does this that I could find. It seems most folks just use tepid water and don’t worry about it. I should really check to make sure this doesn’t make a difference because it may just be something that is totally unnecessary.
Mix-Ins aren’t just for ice cream!
This no-knead bread process makes it so easy to try all kinds of mix-ins. So far, I’ve tried adding finely chopped fresh rosemary from my living room winter garden or Vietnamese cinnamon and both were smelly and yummy. I also plan to try a variety of other chopped fresh herbs like sage, thyme, basil and dill. Basically, I just added ‘an amount’ (yeah, I know that’s vague, sorry) to the dry ingredients before adding the water. Worked great. I’d love to try dried cranberries, chopped nuts, or kalamata olives. Not sure how the olives would work sitting out in the dough on the counter for 18 hours but my guess is they’d be fine given that they’re brined.
If SnarkyVegan can do it, so can you!
After two years of thinking I could never bake bread, I’m beginning to accept that I actually can. And that I may not suck at it. So, if I can do this, there’s absolutely NO REASON that you cannot do it too! Now get going. Buy that fresh flour.