There's no knead

In my enduring quest (months, on and off) for the ideal bread recipe - the one most suited to my tastes, lifestyle, and capabilities - I read this article in the New York Times a few weekends ago. Ruth makes Jim Lahey's bread every day. Though I've made his breads before (well, one, once), her approval was an appealing invitation to get back to it, a decision I have been enjoying with apricot jam and butter for the past two weeks.  

The hardest thing about this recipe is mastering the timing. Taking a total of about 23 hours from start to finish, it requires a little more planning than oooh bread for dinner sounds lovely, let's get on that. The good thing about this recipe is that while bread for dinner may sound lovely, eating this bread any time of the day or night is indeed a lovely experience. 

Though baking bread at the farm became nearly a daily experience I always required Cynthia's intervention in the kneading department. We believed she had magic hands, capable of rescuing my overworked, shaggy heaps of dough, and with a forceful knead-and-turn, transforming them into smooth bread-to-bes. 

So the easiest thing about this recipe is that there's no need for me to call for Cynthia, simply because there's no kneading at all. I'm not yet sure exactly how it works, but I assure you that it does. Upon waiting, as the dough develops and your kitchen adopts the faint scent of yeast, you reveal a rustic, crusty, moist bread, rich with the scent of freshness and covered with a dusting of flour or cornmeal, your choice.
For my first Jim Lahey experience (with olives!) see here.
For more Jim Lahey breads, buy this.

Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed

In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

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