We rarely buy bread anymore. As I write this, a vat of whole wheat bread dough languishes in our fridge. Mike made the dough over the weekend and has since fashioned four loaves for various holiday eating events. All of this is possible due to the no knead artisan bread phenomenon.
Most people credit the whole thing to Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York. Food writer Mark Bittman documented Lahey’s method in 2006 in The New York Times. As Bittman noted, breakthroughs are rare in something as fundamental as bread making, so developing a strategy to transform freshly made bread into almost a convenience food counted as a major achievement. I tried Lahey’s version, included his book My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead
Method (Norton, 2009), and other versions from a variety of books on the subject, most notably Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (Thomas Dunne, 2007) by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. The result: a crusty, artisan-style loaf for about 60 cents. Mike loves the stuff, and plays the role of primary baker for our small household.
Numerous titles have sprung up on the subject, so just find one you like. In addition to the two above, there’s also Kneadlessy Simple by Nancy Baggett which utilizes similar techniques but with more variation such as beer batter and “pot” breads, and they’re virtually foolproof. I’m also a fan of Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day (Ten Speed 2009) which involves a process slightly more involved than other no-knead methods but yields more complex flavors. All these books are available at most booksellers, so I recommend checking them out and selecting the one that appeals to you most. Lahey’s book strikes me as the most soulful, while Artisan in Five as the simplest basic method. Kneadlessly Simple may have the most foolproof recipes while Peter Reinhart’s book is probably the most technical (although still simple to follow).
Why no knead bread books are important: We should all remember that traditional bread has just four ingredients: flour, salt, yeast, water. Here is the ingredient list for one best-selling brand of “whole wheat” bread:
Refined white flour, refined whole wheat flour, water, high fructose corn syrup, contains 2% of less of: wheat gluten, soybean oil, salt, molasses, yeast, mono and diglycerides, exthoxylated mono and diglycerides, dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium iodate, calcium dioxide), datem, calcium sulfate, vinegar, yeast nutrient (ammonium sulfate), extracts of malted barley and corn, dicalcium phosphate, diammonium phosphate, calcium propionate (to retain freshness)
Aside from ingredients, there’s cost. A loaf of artisan bread at a nearby bakery cost about $4. I still visit that bakery for occasional loaves of complicated sprouted grain sandwich bread. Still, it’s hard to beat the smell of baking bread, not to mention the pride that goes along with fetching a hot, crusty loaf from the oven.