If you love good bread as much as I do, you have probably tried baking your own at home. Were you happy with the results or did you feel like you could never make anything as good as the bread you buy at your local grocery store? Whatever the reason you gave up on it, I am here to motivate you to try again. Because as Peter Reinhart puts it “It will always be a hit, no matter how it turns out.”
I am not going to tell you that it’s super easy and that you can make an amazing loaf of bread in 1 hour.
Be wary of recipes claiming that this is possible. Sure, you can make a very yeasty bread that is heavily seasoned with garlic, onions, or other spices, and it will taste wonderful if eaten within a couple of hours, but chances are extremely high that it will taste stale the very next day, sometimes mere hours after being baked.
I don’t know about you, but if I go through the effort of making my own bread, I want it to be better or at least as good as the store-bought loafs.
Although I am a sourdough-girl at heart, I decided to start out with a simple rustic bread leavened with active dry yeast, so you don’t have to spend three days training a sourdough culture.
If you read my posts about homemade baguettes and pretzel buns, you already know a couple of tricks to help you succeed. For the recipe below, the loaf is baked in a pre-heated cast-iron Dutch oven or a clay baker, which eliminates the need to saturate your oven with steam. The other reason why this bread is great for first-time bakers is that it does not require any kneading.
The recipe is based on Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread as published in NYT Cooking, which makes a lovely rustic loaf with an irregular open crumb. I wanted to add more flavor and decided to use 40% whole wheat flour (more on baker’s percentages below), which meant that I had to adjust the process and formula slightly to make sure I still get the beautiful rustic loaf I was looking for.
Using whole-wheat automatically means that the dough will contain less gluten. I decided to add eight “turns” (stretching the dough and folding it over on itself) during the bulk fermentation stage to make up for this lack of gluten and to develop the existing gluten better. The stretching and folding is almost like super slow-motion kneading, without all the elbow grease.
I also adjusted the yeast contents so that the dough could be mixed in the afternoon (when you get home from work), shaped in the evening (before you go out to dinner), and baked the next morning before breakfast.
This means that you start out by mixing the dough, letting it ferment at room temperature (70-72°F) for four hours, and stretching and folding it every 30 minutes. After the four hours, you transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, fold it over onto itself, and let it rest for 20 minutes to allow the gluten to relax.
To shape the dough into a loaf, we need to create surface tension. The gluten that has been developed during the bulk fermentation forms an elastic membrane around the outside of the loaf. During the shaping process, we are trying to stretch that membrane, almost as if we were blowing up a balloon, to make sure that the loaf will rise well in the oven and stand tall.
To shape the dough into a boule, the standard round loaf shape, grab a section of the outer edge and fold it towards the middle, pressing the end down in the center. Work your way around the entire edge until you have achieved a round shape.
Now turn the dough over so the smooth side is facing up. Using your hands and a bench knife or scraper, create even more tension by turning the dough on the work surface and stretching its surface at the same time by gently pushing more dough to the underside of the ball. The dough should lightly anchor on the work surface, so make sure you are not using too much flour.
If this sounds a little complicated, don’t worry too much about it. This dough is very forgiving and will still come out great.
When you have shaped your dough, place it in a lightly floured proofing basket or a bowl lined with a lightly floured dish towel (do not use a terry towel as it will stick to the dough) with the smooth side down (the seams will face up). Cover with plastic wrap and transfer it to the fridge to rise over night for 10-12 hours.
Preheat your oven to 500°F about 1 hour before you want to bake the loaf. Be sure to also preheat the Dutch oven or clay baker, otherwise the dough will not rise to its full potential and it will be very hard to remove from the Dutch oven.
Once everything has been preheated, remove the Dutch oven, transfer the dough to the Dutch oven with the smooth side up, and score the loaf. If your loaf is going to be oblong (a batard) like mine, you can make one continuous cut from one end to the other. If your loaf is going to be round, make four cuts intersecting towards their ends at 90° angles, kind of like a widened # symbol.
A couple of general notes before you get started.
- Try to keep an eye on the temperatures. I recommend using an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature of the room you are working in and the temperature in your fridge. Colder temperatures will require longer rise times, while warmer temperatures increase the fermentation rate, so you may need to adjust the times slightly. As a general guideline you can keep in mind that the fermentation rate of yeast doubles with every 17°F increase in temperature.
- On baker’s percentages: Understanding baker’s percentages is extremely helpful when you want to use different measurements, scale a recipe up or down, or if you need to adjust a formula to meet your needs. The basic concept is that all dough ingredients are weighted against each other, with the total amount of flour being counted as 100%. That means, if your bread is made with 1000 g of all-purpose flour and contains 800 g water, 20 g salt, and 10 g yeast, the baker’s percentages in the formula are 100 % all-purpose flour, 80% water, 2% salt, and 1% yeast. If a recipe contains contains different types of flour, their total amount is counted as 100%. The recipe below contains 300 g all-purpose flour and 200 g whole wheat flour, adding up to a total flour contents of 500 g (i.e., 300 g/60% all-purpose flour + 200 g/40% whole wheat flour = 500 g/100% flour). If you don’t want to use grams and milliliters, you can simply use the percentages given below and create your own formula in ounces.
40% Whole Wheat No-Knead Bread
- cast-iron Dutch oven or clay baker, I use a Römertopf Original
- 300 g unbleached all-purpose flour (60%)
- 200 g whole wheat flour (40%)
- 400 ml water, about 70°F (80%)
- 10 g salt (2%)
- 1 g instant yeast (0.2%)
- Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix by hand or with a wooden spoon until you see no more dry flour.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature (70°-72°F) for 4 hours, stretching and folding the dough every 30 minutes.
- Transfer dough to lightly floured counter top and fold it over on itself. Sprinkle with flour and lightly cover with plastic wrap to keep a skin from forming. Let rest for 20 minutes.
- Gently shape into a boule or batard.
- Place dough seam up into a floured proofing basket or bowl lined with a dish towel. Cover with plastic wrap and transfer to fridge to rest over night (40-45°F, about 12 hours).
- About 1 hour before you want to bake, place Dutch oven into the oven and preheat to 500°F.
- Transfer dough to Dutch oven (seam down) and score the top.
- Cover with lid and return to oven. Reduce temperature to 450°F and bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove lid and continue baking for an additional 15-25 minutes until crust is dark brown. The loaf should feel light for its size and sound hollow when knocking on the bottom.
- Transfer to cooling rack and let cool.
If the bread does not come out as expected, please describe the problem in the comment section below. I am always happy to help troubleshoot.