Saturday, January 20, 2007


My father and my sister are the breadmakers in the family. Their loaves always turn out like pieces of art--crisp golden crusts, airy light interiors--with no special effort on their part and with very little attention to the recipe itself. I, on the other hand, slavishly follow every step with scientific precision and end up with dense, disappointing loaves.

While in town for his seventy-sixth birthday earlier this month, my father made a loaf of no-knead bread. It requires very little yeast and relies instead on time (about 20 hours) to raise the dough. He's sloppy and impatient as a baker, rushing through every step to get the thing done with. When he was finished, the kitchen was covered in flour, as was he, but the result was stunning--a gorgeous golden boule, split open at the top, flowerlike, and dusted in a sprinkling of flour.

I tried to recreate the boule this weekend, and though mine is lovely enough (see photo above), it's not truly splendid. But, I'm determined to keep trying, using the very easy recipe (below) that my father saw in the New York Times last year.

(from the New York Times as adapted from the city's Sullivan Street Bakery)

3 cups flour
1/4 tsp yeast
1-1/4 tsp salt
1-5/8 cups water (warmed in a pan, just to take off the chill, and to no more than about 120 degrees F)
flour, cornmeal, or oat bran, as needed

1. Combine flour, yeast, and salt. Add the warm water and stir until blended. The dough will be sticky and shaggy. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let is rest for 18 hours in a warm room. (I set the bowl on top of a towel or two and put the whole thing on top of a warm radiator.)

2. Eighteen hours later, check the dough. It is risen sufficiently when the surface is covered with small bubbles.

3. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and sprinkle a little more flour over the dough itself. Fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with more plastic wrap, and let it sit for 15 minutes.

4. Then gently shape the dough into a ball. Coat a cotton kitchen towel with flour, cornmeal, or oat bran. Put the bread, seam side down, on the towel and dust with a little more flour, cornmeal, or bran. Cover with another towel and let the dough rise for 2 more hours.

5. Half an hour before the dough is ready, heat the oven to 450 degrees. Put a heavy covered pot (I use a cast-iron Dutch oven) in the oven as it heats. When the dough is ready, remove the pot from the oven. Turn the dough into the pot, seam side up. Shake the pot a time or two to more evenly distribute the dough. Cover with the lid and bake 30 minutes. Then carefully remove the lid (watch out for escaping steam!) and bake for another 10-15 minutes to brown the crust.

Cool on a rack. Makes excellent toast!