Like practically every other foodblogger in the blogosphere, I've been playing around with the no-knead bread recipe that I linked to earlier. The gist of the recipe, for anyone's managed to avoid it, is that you make a very wet dough that you don't need to knead. You let it rise for 12-18 hours, do a few folds to form it into a ball, let it rise for 2 more hours, then bake in a preheated heavy pan, with the lid on for the first 30 minutes. The high liquid content evaporates lots of steam into the closed pan, which helps produce a perfect artisanal crust.
My first loaf didn't turn out very well - it overproofed, so I got zero oven spring. Plus it stuck to the floured towel, so was decidedly unphotogenic. Crust was great, but the interior was overly moist and just not very flavorful. I vowed to try again.
Thanks to a voluminous thread on eGullet and Rose Levy Berenbaum's blog, I was able to benefit from the experience of dozens of other no-knead bread bakers. The enameled cast iron pot I was using is pretty wide, so my bread had a tendency to spread out. I decided to try making a larger loaf so that the bread could get an assist in rising from the sides of the pan. And I added some semolina flour and upped the salt content to boost the flavor.
This time I watched the dough rather than the clock, and decided to stop the first rise at 15 hours rather than going all the way to 18. I used rice flour on my cotton towel for the second rise, and had no sticking. Based on other's reports, I knew that leaving the lid on for the whole 30 minutes would produce a thicker crust than I'd like, so I checked after 20 minutes, and took the lid off at 25 minutes. Another 25 minutes, and the internal temperature of the bread measured 209.5, so out it came (the target temperature is 210 - close enough!). The result is the perfect (if I do say so myself) loaf you see up above! Great crust and an nicely flavored crumb. Here's the recipe I settled on:
No-Knead Bread (large loaf)Here's a link to Mark Bittman's new NYT article summarizing the learnings of the legions of no-knead bread bakers - "No Kneading, but Some Fine-Tuning." He includes many of the same suggestions that I've incorporated above, and there's a link to the original recipe from that article.
20 oz King Arthur AP flour
4 oz semolina flour
3/8 tsp rapid rise yeast
4 tsp Morton kosher salt
2 1/2 cups water
Combine flours, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add water and mix to blend - dough will be quite sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 12-18 hours at room temperature.
When the surface of the dough is covered with bubbles the dough is ready. Generously flour your counter and turn the dough out on it. Sprinkle the dough with some more flour, and flour your hands. Fold the dough into thirds (like a letter) in one direction, then in the other direction, to form a ball.
Place the ball seam side down on a generously floured cotton towel - rice flour seems to work the best (you can make your own by grinding rice finely in a blender or spice grinder). Cover loosely with the towel and let rise for 2 more hours - dough should double in size and stay indented slightly when poked with a finger.
At least 30 minutes for the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, placing your heavy cast iron, enameled or other pot and lid in the oven as it heats. When dough is ready, remove the hot pan from the oven and carefully invert the dough into the pot. It will now be seem side up. Shake the pan if necessary to even out the dough.
Cover and bake for 20-25 minutes, removing the lid just when the crust begins to brown. Remove the lid and turn the temperature down to 425 and then bake for another 25 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches about 210 degrees.
Cool completely on a rack before cutting. (Hard, I know, but you'll be rewarded with superior flavor and texture.)
I'll certainly be making this again. It's too easy not to! In fact, it's nearly effortless, although you do need to plan in advance because of the long rise time. If you haven't tried it yet, what are you waiting for? Now is the time!
 Note - If you use Diamond Crystal kosher salt, you'll only need 3 1/2 tsp. If you use table salt, it's more like 2 1/4 tsp. This is because there are big differences in crystal size between brands of salt, and between kosher and non-kosher salt.