I always love a good shortcut.
Don't get me wrong, I believe in the importance of the little things in cooking. Washing the lettuce three times. Cutting the onion into fine dice. Deveining shrimp.
But I think it's important to decide when those things matter and when they don't.
So I was very excited to hear about no-knead artisan bread. Bread making somewhere along the way morphed into these long recipes where you have to measure the temperature of the water and punch the dough down five times precisely 40 minutes after rising.
It's just not necessary.
Many years ago, Natalie Colwin wrote this book "Home Cooking." If you haven't read it you should. It's wonderful writing.
Anyway. Natalie had a small child and couldn't deal with the fussiness of bread baking so she set some limits. It would rise when she wanted it to rise, bake when she wanted it to bake. She used less yeast, extended the rise, used a cold rise. She made the dough in the evening, let it rise all night, and baked it in the morning.
And it worked!
This transformed my idea of breadbaking. It's not a delicate thing, that yeast. Kick it around, put it in the fridge, let it rise for days, it still works.
I started experimenting, letting the dough rise 12 hours, 15 hours. At some point it needed to be punched down, but maybe even that wasn't necessary.
The key is to use less yeast. The less you use, the slower the rise, the more the gluten can develop. And what's amazing is the bread is better this way. The flavors become complex, like sourdough.
Your thought process changes when you bake bread this way. You realize that you have control over when the bread rises or doesn't rise, not the reverse. You are freed from the binds of those obsssively detailed recipes.
So a few months ago Lynn Rosetto Kasper of "The Splendid Table" (this very cool radio podcast) had these bread bakers on and they took it a step further. Use very little yeast, don't knead the dough AT ALL, and let it rise in the fridge for days. From what they said on the broadcast, the bread was amazing.
Of course, I had to try it. I made the dough two days ago (it took 10 minutes despite my spacy slow post-call state), let it rise on the counter for 2 hours, then punched it down, put it in the fridge, and forgot about it. Today I punched it down again, tore off a hunk, made a roll and baked it. Oh and I let it rise a little before I threw it in the oven. Like 20 minutes.
It was fabulous. This rich sourdough taste, the perfect crust. So simple.
This all comes from a cookbook called "Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day." You can find the recipe here.
Those people are geniuses.
p.s. if you want to be fancy you can use a pizza stone which will give you that thick artisan crust. I didn't have one and it was just fine without it.
p.p.s You can also top the bread any way you like. I chose to sprinkle on a little water and then some rock salt. You could use butter or oil if you like a softer crust, cornmeal for a crunchier taste, or egg whites for that shiny look. So many options.