Fast, Healthy, No-Knead Bread


This is a mild sourdough bread, adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes. Read their stuff, and maybe you’ll find that you have all of their equipment. They’ll make you feel like a pro. (But their “five minute” claim is a bit optimistic.)

This is the healthier, tastier, safer, more convenient, and on a budget version. It’s also corn free!

Special stuff you need:
A 2 gallon container with a lid that can be loose fitting
I use a two gallon plastic pitcher I found in the summer plastic at Walmart eons ago. I’m sure it has BPA, but we’re not heating it up, so let’s pretend that it doesn’t. Whatever you use, it needs to go in the fridge, and it shouldn’t have metal touching the dough. A giant glass jar, a sour dough crock, those would be fabulous.

A broiler pan
Most traditional stoves come with them, but sometimes the previous tenant or owner forgets that it belongs to the oven. Check the drawer under your stove, if you’ve never gone looking for it before. At the very least, you need a heavy duty pan that can withstand high oven temps even when the pan is empty, without warping. Do not use glass or ceramic, not even Pyrex. Using it as you are about to in this recipe could make it explode.

I think that’s about it for special stuff.

3 cups lukewarm water
If you save the water from boiling potatoes, you can use that and have significantly softer and tastier bread. No need to sieve the potato water. It’ll be more than just a bit cloudy, and that’s perfect. I pour off a jar full every time I make mashed potatoes, and store that jar in the fridge. The water can turn a bit gray, as potatoes do when exposed to air. That won’t hurt the bread.
1.5 tablespoons bread yeast
Kroger’s got their own brand cheaper than anywhere else I’ve seen.
1 – 1.5 tablespoon sea salt
The more colorful your salt, the more minerals in it, but plain white sea salt is still better than pure processed salt. I’m finding that 1 tablespoon isn’t quite enough, but 1.5 is too much. Experiment.
1/2 cup ground flax seed
We’re using a really course grind of simply sliced seeds right now, so 1/2 cup is the max that works. You can add more with a finer grind. Flax seed adds more health benefits than I can discuss. At the very least, it eases my conscience over the white flour.
6 cups whole wheat blend flour
Make your own blend. Buy a premade blend. Up to you. I’ve done both. Unfortunately for this recipe, 100% whole wheat doesn’t really work. It has to be less than half whole wheat. You grinders of your own flours may be able to make it work, with a really fine grind. I am endlessly impressed with what Sara Satterfield does with a whole wheat pastry flour.

Making it:
Once you get into the swing of this, you will always have a pitcher in the fridge ready to go. You’ll mix up the next pitcher as soon as you’ve got the last batch of dough baking in the oven. The first time takes a whole day’s patience, even though it’s only about five minutes of work to get the dough mixed, and then about five minutes of work to get the dough ready to bake.

The night before you want the bread, mix up the dough. Mix the warm water, yeast, salt and flax together in the pitcher. Give it a good stir with a wooden spoon. Measure in the flour. Thoroughly wet one hand and use your hand to stir. You need to mix it until the dough is evenly wet. It’s a decidedly wet and sticky dough. Do your best to get as much of the dough off your fingers and back into the pitcher as you can.

To stir this without getting your hands dirty, you can struggle with a long wooden spoon if you want to, but I gave up on that. I could never get the dough evenly mixed that way. I have used my kitchen aid mixer with the bread hook attached, and that works out, but my 4.5 quart mixer bowl is not big enough to store this, and needs a lid. I wouldn’t want to lose my only bowl to bread storage, either. That means a lot more dirty dishes and some precious dough lost in transferring it to the pitcher. It is decidedly more convenient to use your hands. They’re easy washing anyway.

After mixing, loosely cover the pitcher and leave it in a warm spot for a couple of hours. I leave it on the coolest spot on the stove top while I’ve got bread going in the oven for supper. Be aware of the location of your oven vent. You don’t want to put the dough anywhere near it. Some place else in the kitchen is probably safer, and better for the dough, than the stove top. I am suffering a serious lack of counter space, and I love the faster rise on the oven, so this is what I do.

The dough will rise and produce gas. If you’ve got an air tight lid, bad things could happen, especially to glass or crockery containers. My vented plastic pitcher lid works well. The dough is done rising when the top has flattened and fallen back a bit. That takes about two hours, but you can leave the bread out longer than that without any worries. I make sure the pitcher goes back into the fridge while I’m cleaning up after dinner. Sometimes, I find it still out in the morning. It’s sour dough. It’s not going to go bad, but the texture will be denser. Stick it in the fridge and move on.

Now the dough can keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge, or be ready to go in the morning. You can even freeze the dough, if you’re about to go on vacation, or for some other reason abstain from bread for more than two weeks. I’ll explain how to freeze it in a second. It’s not something I’ve ever actually done. The longer the dough stays in the fridge, the more of a sour dough flavor it will have.

When you’re ready to bake, a couple of hours before dinner should be on the table, grab your dough, your flour box, some butter and a cookie sheet. This is where Artisan Bread in Five Minutes gets all pro-kitchen fancy. This is where I get all budget kitchen practical. Let your dough sit a minute while you lightly grease and flour your cookie sheet. Sprinkle your dough with a little bit flour, and then reach in there and grab a hunk. I usually wind up with about a third of the dough. If it doesn’t pull away easily, use a serated knife to cut it.

Stretch the floured top around the ball of dough, so that you’re gathering in all the wet dough under a nice, smooth top. The bottom will be messy, gathered ends. Do it fast, so that you aren’t over working the dough. Plunk the finished lump down into a bottom corner of your baking sheet.

Repeat with the rest of the dough. Sprinkle, grab, form into a ball. You’ll have a little triangle formation on your sheet, with a ball in each of the bottom corners, and one at the top in the middle, not too close to the edges. Cover with a tea towel, and set out of the reach of tiny hands.

You’ve got forty minutes, probably best spent getting other dinner things ready. Half way through that time, turn the oven to 450. Fill your broiler pan with water, just enough that you’re not sloshing from sink to oven. Use a cup to pour it in after the pan is in place if you want to, but my goal is always as few dishes touched as possible. Slide that pan onto the bottom rack of the oven. The top rack should be in the middle, and that’s where the bread will go.

When the forty minutes are up, your bread may or may not have significantly risen. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour. Slash it with a serrated knife, two or three long cuts in whatever pattern amuses you or fits your bread aesthetic. The slices let your dough expand despite the crunchy crust you’re about to have, and it makes your bread pretty. If you completely forget to do this, it’ll be okay, so don’t panic or go hacking away at half cooked bread, but it does need doing.

Bake the bread until it’s done. It’ll take anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour. You’ll know it’s done with it is a nice golden brown, and feels solid when you thump it. You only have to take it out too early once to figure out what “almost done” really looks like, and then you’ll never second guess yourself on the look and feel of true doneness again. Smush the slice that told you of your mistake back against the bread, and put it back in the oven. It’ll be okay.

Finish up dinner while the bread is baking. Refill your dough pitcher. You don’t need to wash the pitcher before mixing up your next patch of dough. Scrape the dough that’s still clinging to the sides down into the water mix before you add the fresh flour. Again, this is sour dough. Keeping some of the last mix in there intensifies the sour dough flavor. I wash my pitcher when I didn’t have enough time to mix the dough that same night.

Serve dinner with the bread, and mourn how little the children eat of anything but buttered bread. This is an excellent bread for dipping into soups and sopping up sauces. Alternatively, serve the bread for dessert. This way, I can rejoice over the tiny boy’s pot belly, as he finds room he didn’t know he had for more food. And then I resolve to spend extra time on the treadmill myself.

Side Notes:
As mentioned before, the dough can be frozen. Form it into balls, as though you were just about to bake it, then wrap it in plastic wrap, slide into a quart sized plastic bag,and get as much air out as possible before you close it. Freeze in this form. When you’re ready to bake, pull it out, plunk the balls down on the sheet, and give more time to thaw and rise before baking.

For a softer crust, use two loaf pans instead of the baking sheet. Grease and flour the bottoms and part way up the sides of the pans. You don’t have to make as much of a ball with this, and need to divide the dough evenly between the pans. It can sit longer to rise, and it will need to bake longer.

Here is a friend’s video of the “gathering the ends” bit.  This is from a different recipe, so hers is a prettier, smoother, drier dough.