I absolutely love making bread. It’s like a kind of therapy, where you can just leave everything behind and get swept up with the aromas of the fresh flour, the beautiful way that yeast blooms (or the incredible bubbles and aromas of an active sourdough starter), and bringing the dough together into a silky smoothness. For years, this was something I saved for a weekend, as some of the beautiful breads I would make could take as much as 3 hours or more from beginning to end (with a couple of 20 minute kneading sessions --- which was dramatically shortened when I bought my first stand mixer, but I’d always finish kneading by hand as I didn’t want to miss the silky smoothness of the dough). This was a labour of love, and the results were definitely worth it. I would often make 2 or 3 loaves, quickly devouring the fresh baked one and then freezing the others to savour through the rest of the week. But that first loaf, warm and fresh out of the oven, was the ultimate reward.
As life moves on, time gets squeezed. My weekend bread-baking “therapy sessions” were fewer and farther between. I was totally of the belief that incredible bread requires significant sweat equity (i.e. kneading, rising, kneading, rising, shaping, baking)…and it does. But...the “secret doors” were opened about 15 years ago, when Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City, introduced the concept of long fermentation no-knead bread. It was almost unbelievable that you could create an amazing rustic-style artisan bread with literally only a few minutes of mixing ingredients together (just slightly more effort than using a bread maker). The key was replacing all that effort with time (i.e. letting the dough sit overnight for 12 hours would naturally replace the “need to knead” to form the gluten). This “long fermentation” also contributed to a much deeper flavour and beautiful texture (both of the crust and crumb). The other key was baking this amazing bread inside an enclosed vessel for part of the time to naturally steam the loaf for the first part of baking. This enabled significant oven spring (keeping the crust soft so the loaf can fully expand). Once the lid was taken off, the crust would beautifully caramelize. Upon taking this incredible bread out of the oven after reaching the perfect baking temperature (between 200 – 205 F), the crust would have an amazing crackling sound as it cooled. This is pure awesomeness that must be shared!
I have included two versions of this recipe…the first is the original recipe from Jim Lehay (which uses a very small amount of yeast), and the second is an adapted sourdough version, which I make pretty much everyday now.
The beautiful thing about this bread recipe, is that it’s very easy to build into a daily routine, so you can have the ultimate reward of amazing fresh-baked artisan/rustic style bread every day (if you like). As mentioned above, timing is key, and the best way to make this bread is to let time do the work while you sleep.
In both the yeast version and the sourdough version, it’s best to mix the ingredients the night before. For example, if you want fresh baked bread for lunch the next day, I’d mix the ingredients around 8 or 9pm the night before. The only step that differs with the sourdough version is feeding the sourdough starter around 6pm to allow a couple hours to get active and double in size.
Jim Lahey’s no-knead artisan bread
480g* bread flour (e.g. Black Fox Flour semi-whole grain version of Hard Red Spring or Red Fife) *this is about 3 1/3 cups flour if using a measuring cup and scooping the flour out of the bag. If possible, it is best to measure flour by weight using a kitchen scale to ensure consistent results.
¼ teaspoon yeast (instant or rapid rise)
10 g (1 ¼ teaspoon) salt
375g (1 ½ cups) lukewarm water
Cornmeal to dust the bottom of the covered baking vessel
*I prefer making an oblong loaf, so instead of shaping into a ball, I gently flatten the dough, and then fold the third of the dough nearest to me onto itself, and then roll the rest toward the end farthest from me, while simultaneously bringing the ends in while I roll it together. Once it’s rolled together, pinch together the seam, and then place it on the floured towel seam side up and then bring the two long sides of the towel together and roll them to form a semi-tight tube around the loaf. Finally, fold the long side of the towel over each other, and then flip it all over so the bread is resting on the ends of the towel (seam side down).
Sourdough no-knead artisan bread
Here’s the no-knead recipe that I adapted for sourdough. The sourdough version of this bread is surprisingly forgiving. The sourdough stands up very well to the blending of whole wheat flour (i.e. Spelt, Einkorn, Khorasan, Emmer, Rye) with the bread flours (i.e. semi-whole grain versions of Hard Red Spring or Red Fife). Using sourdough and the long fermentation helps to activate enzymes in the whole grains which breaks down the phytic acids (which our bodies can’t) so that more of the nutrients of the whole grains are available to us. That sourdough is wonderful stuff!
480 grams* bread flour – Black Fox Flour semi-whole grain version of Red Fife or Hard Red Spring work very well right out of the bag, or they can be blended with one of the whole grain versions to experience some of the amazing flavours of the whole grain flours such as Rye, Spelt, Khorasan, Einkorn or Emmer (start with 50:50 blend by weight and adjust by preference).
**this is about 3 1/3 cups flour if using a measuring cup and scooping the flour out of the bag. If possible, it is best to measure flour by weight using a kitchen scale to ensure consistent results.
10 grams (1 ¼ teaspoons) of salt
275 grams (1 1/8 cup) of lukewarm water
190 grams of sourdough starter - it’s important to measure by weight using a kitchen scale as sourdough starter can differ greatly by volume)
Cornmeal to dust the bottom of the covered baking vessel
From this point on, the steps are identical to the yeasted version….
*The key for the baking vessel is to have something that keeps in the steam to allow for oven spring. Cast iron Dutch ovens are popular (e.g. Staub, La Creuset), Another much more affordable version is the cast iron combi cooker made by Lodge (in which the bread can be placed on the lid for easier handling and covered by the deeper part). Deep covered Pyrex or ceramic vessels (i.e. casserole dishes) can also be used. I’ve used all of these, and they all work well. That being said, I keep going back to my favourite which is a 3” deep covered Pyrex oval casserole dish. Even though it’s probably one of the least expensive options, I like the oval shape (as I prefer oblong loaves), and I also like the glass lid so I can see the oven spring (which is helpful if the loaf might need an extra few minutes for a bit more oven spring). For round loaves, the Lodge cast iron combi cooker is really nice to use, and easy to handle particularly baking on the lid and using the larger part as the cover.
I hope these recipes serve you well and that you bake amazing bread into your daily routine. I hope you try blending the different flours and coming up with your own delicious masterpieces. Please let me know how things work out, and particularly stories of your adventures in making these your own.
Founder, Black Fox Flour