Sometimes we are just plain lucky. If my first loaf of no-knead bread had turned out like the second, I would not be sharing this recipe. The story starts about three years ago when I happened on a recipe for a bread that was baked in a closed casserole to give the resulting loaf a crisp crust like the breads you find in some good artisan bakeries.
Since I had been trying to get a crisp crust on French bread for years, I decided to try it. I stirred everything up and a day later had a loaf that was okay but could stand improvement. A few days later I confidently stirred up a second batch, adding just a little more water to the dough in hopes that I would get a better crumb.
Disaster! The bread welded itself into the pan. It took me over an hour to remove the loaf in little pieces and soak the crust from the casserole. However, since I knew that it was possible to bake bread in a casserole, I adjusted the water again and had another edible loaf in a couple of days. The rest, as we say in our kitchen, is history.
I have made this bread over a hundred times since then, experimenting with different combinations and kinds of flours and making small improvements from time to time until at last we have a bread that we really like.
To make this bread you need a large bread bowl and a 3 or 4 quart covered casserole. I use a stoneware bread bowl at home and a stainless steel one at the cabin. For baking we have a square 3 quart Corningware casserole at home and a glass pyrex bowl at the cabin that I cover with a pie plate. Both work fine, though the casserole has handles that make it easier to put into and take out of the oven.
Here is the recipe with my attempt to explain how to turn some simple ingredients into a loaf you will love.
3 cups bread flour plus extra as needed
1 cup rye flour
2 1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
1/2 tsp. honey
First, a note about a timetable: I like to start this bread after supper in the evening so I can bake it the following morning, but you might want to start it just before you go to bed, then wait until the following day after work to finish the job. Letting it rise longer the first time will not hurt the bread. In fact, if you are lucky you may get a hint of sourdough in the finished loaf. This has happened to me when I let the dough rise nearly a full day.
Mix the flours, salt, sugar and yeast together in a large bread bowl. Add the lukewarm water and stir until well mixed. If necessary, add a little bit of water so that all the flour is moist. Stir vigorously with wooden spoon in a circular motion. The dough should come away from the sides of the bowl. If not, sprinkle a little more flour over the dough and stir some more.
Use a spatula to scrape the dough from the spoon and from the sides of the bowl. Moisten the rim of the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set in a warm place and allow to rise for 12 to 15 hours. Remove the plastic wrap and dribble about a half teaspoon of honey over the dough. With a wooden spoon scrape the dough from the sides of the bowl and stir the dough to mix in the honey and scrape down the sides of the bowl as before. If all is going well, the dough should be extremely elastic.
Moisten the rim of the bowl and cover with the plastic wrap again. Let the dough rise until it has some good-sized bubbles on the top, usually a couple of hours. Spread three or four tablespoons of flour (all purpose flour is okay for this step) on a sheet of waxed paper about 18 inches long, then sprinkle a little flour around the edges of the dough and use a spatula to release the dough from the bowl and tip it onto the waxed paper.
Use the spatula to fold the dough onto itself, adding more flour to the paper if the dough sticks. Gather the wax paper corners together and clip them together to make a loose tent over the dough. Set the dough in a pie plate and put in a warm place to rise. I usually set a timer for 55 minutes. When the timer sounds, put the casserole in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Just as a reminder, I now set the timer for about 20 minutes.
When the oven and casserole are hot, it is time to transfer the dough from the waxed paper to the casserole. This step is easier with two people, but you can do it alone.
Take the casserole from the oven and set the cover aside. Grease the inside of the casserole with a little shortening. A piece of paper towel and fork work well for this procedure. Remove the clip from the waxed paper and drop the dough into the casserole. Use a spatula to scrape any sticking dough from the paper. Cover the casserole and return it to the middle shelf of the oven. Set the timer for 27 minutes.
When the timer sounds, remove the cover and allow the bread to continue baking. Set the timer for another 27 minutes. At the end of this time, tap the top of the loaf. If it sounds hollow the bread is done. Otherwise, allow it to bake another 3 or 4 minutes.
Tip the loaf onto a rack and allow it to cool thoroughly.
NOTE: I like to use hard wheat bread flour for this recipe, but you can use all purpose flour as well. The bread does not seem to rise quite as well with the all purpose flour. You can also replace the rye flour with ordinary bread flour. Like me, you may have to develop a sense for the right amount of water in the dough by making this bread a few times. Don’t give up, as it is so good that you may find yourself making a meal of just bread and butter.