Generally speaking, in the culinary world there are bakers and there are cooks. It takes a chemist’s love of precision, not to say a certain steeliness, to be a baker. Me, I’m a cook.
But I do love to bake bread. In fact, I’ve been on a bread-baking kick for several years, experimenting with everything from Grandma’s old-fashioned knead-it-up method to neo-hippy, grow-your-own-wild-yeast-before-you-even-start-mixing-the-dough recipes. Recently, however, I learned a method so wonderful that it will likely put an end to my experimental wanderings.
The breakthrough occurred when I took a class with the legendary Jim Lahey, founder of Sullivan Street Bakery, at the International Culinary Center in New York City. I first saw Jim’s method years ago, when the New York Times ran his sensational recipe for no-knead, slow-rise, bread. I was skeptical—no way baking bread could be so easy.
But it can. I followed his instructions but put my own twist on the recipe, adding extra whole-wheat flour, toasted walnuts, and rosemary, and, wow! I baked up a darned good-looking, excellent-tasting loaf of bread.
One of the ways to ensure your success here is by weighing, not measuring, the flour. And don’t be thrown off by the wetness of the dough, the temperature of the water added (it’s cool), or the temperature at which the dough first rises (it’s room temp).
You do need to plan ahead to accommodate the long rise and the bread has to cool down completely before you can eat it. But you may find yourself enjoying really heavenly fresh bread several times a week. And, in case I forgot to mention it before, every time you bake one of these bad boys, your whole house smells wonderful.
Start to finish: 14 hours, 20 minutes to 21 hours, 20 minutes
Hands-on time: 20 minutes
Servings: 1 (10-inch) loaf
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (50 grams)
2 cups bread flour (266 grams)
1 cup whole-wheat flour (133 grams)
11/4 teaspoons table salt (8 grams)
3/4 teaspoon instant yeast (2 grams)
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary (6 grams)
1 1/3 cups cool water (350 grams)
Additional flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a shallow baking dish, toast the walnuts on the middle shelf of the oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Let them cool completely.
In a medium bowl, stir together the walnuts, bread flour, whole-wheat flour, salt, yeast, and rosemary. Add the cool water (about 55° to 65°F) and stir briefly with a wooden spoon or your hands, just until the dough is barely mixed, about 30 seconds. The dough should be quite wet and tacky; if it is not, add 1 to 2 tablespoons more water. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise at room temperature for 12 to 18 hours or until it is more than double in bulk.
Generously sprinkle a work surface with flour and gently, with the help of a plastic bench scraper, scoop out the dough onto the counter. Working very quickly, with floured hands, fold in all the sides of the dough to the center to form a seam and turn the dough over to form a nice round with the seam on the bottom. Generously sprinkle a (lint-free) tea towel with flour and transfer the dough round, seam side down, to the towel. Sprinkle the top of the dough lightly with flour and loosely fold the ends of towel over the dough.
Let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours or until it is almost doubled in bulk. You will know it is ready when you poke the dough and it holds your imprint (like an “innie” belly button). If the dough bounces back, it’s not ready.
About 30 minutes before you think the dough is ready preheat the oven to 475°F, put a rack in the lower third of the oven, and place a 41/2- to 51/2-quart casserole dish with a lid (like a Dutch oven) on the shelf to preheat.
When the dough has risen, carefully remove the casserole dish from the oven using oven mitts and take off the lid. With the aid of the tea towel, flip the dough gently, seam side up, into the casserole dish. Put the lid on the casserole dish and return it to the shelf in the oven. Bake 30 minutes. Carefully remove the lid with the mitts and bake the dough until it has browned nicely but is not burnt, another 15 to 30 minutes.
Using the oven mitts, remove the casserole dish from the oven and, with a spatula or dish towel, carefully transfer the bread to a rack to cool completely before eating.