No-Knead Bread Meets Finnish Design

After reading a couple of 2008 articles on no-knead bread in the NY Times food section (check out the first article article on the slower process, as well as the follow up on a faster process), a friend of ours decided to give it a go with the iittala Sarpaneva Cast Iron Casserole.

iittala sarpaneva cast iron casserole

No-knead bread started at the Manhattan Sullivan Street Bakery, where owner Jim Lahey invented a bread baking process ideal for amateur bakers, whose loaves often fall short of professionally baked ones because their bakers lack years of experience in exact and finely tuned recipes as well as the heavy machinery, like steam injecting ovens. Lahey starts with a batch of sticky, wet (about 42% water) dough with only about a 1/4 teaspoon of yeast (most recipes use at least four times as much) and lets it sit and rise in a covered bowl...for 18 hours! Then it's turned out onto a board for about 15 minutes, quickly shaped, given a few more hours to rise, and then baked in a covered heavy cast iron or ceramic pot. Cooking it in a pot keeps the moisture in, ensuring a thin, crispy crust that crumbles when you bite into it. According to Lahey and the NY Times article, the actual baking is simple, because most of the work is done by that long fermentation process, which may take a while, but really isn't all that much work since you don't have knead the dough!

But, even if this process cuts out most of the manual labor of baking bread, it requires a lot of foresight. With an 18+ hour cook time (though you can get it down to 12 with more yeast), this isn't exactly something you embark on on a whim or the morning of. Our friend Anne opted for a similar, but speedier process that brings the rising time down to about 4 hours, plus 30-60 minutes for baking, and however long it takes you to mix up your dough.

Anne riffed on the NY Times recipe below using less water (about 1 1/4 cups) and more salt (almost a tablespoon). She had fantastic results with an iittala Sarpaneva cast iron casserole--quite an interesting piece of cookware. A classic Finnish design by Timo Sarpaneva that was once pictured on a Finnish postage stamp. Sarpaneva drew inspiration from the work of his blacksmith grandfather for this wooden-handled piece of cast iron cookware that fits just as well into the 20th century as it could the 16th. After all, bread baking hasn't changes so much since then. It works well for this baking process because it's the right diameter for a boule, it holds in heat and moisture well, and it can be stuck right into the oven.

no knead bread boule

Speedy No-Knead Bread

Ingredients

  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 packet ( 1/4 ounce) instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • Oil as needed

Directions

  1. Combine flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups water and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest about 4 hours at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
  2. Lightly oil a work surface and place dough on it; fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest 30 minutes more.
  3. 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 dough and put it into pot, seam side up. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.
  4. 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.