You know the recipe I'm talking about. You must know about it. According to urban legend out there on the web, it's the most emailed recipe out there. I can believe it because I've had it sent to me no less than five times. And at least two people have actively campaigned to try to get me to try and make it. What's that? You say you don't know which recipe I'm talking about? Why, no-knead bread. Bread that's supposed to taste exactly like the fabulous kind you tried in Europe with cheese and wine. Bread that you can never find in the US unless you go to a super duper bakery and pay big bucks for it (I can only find it for $10+ at my local bakery).
I think it was the New York Times that published the recipe that first began the frenzy. I received a version of the recipe via a facebook post by a friend in upstate New York that convinced me to finally try it. It was a great explanation of the process and step by step recipe published at Mother Earth News. You can find the recipe and directions here. I'll reproduce them here step by step, with photos of my first attempt. See, when I thought about doing this and blogging about it, I figured that whether it was a success or a complete flop, it would still be entertaining.
The idea is you take four basic ingredients -- active dry yeast, warm water, all-purpose flour, and salt -- add some interesting flour for dusting (I used yellow cornmeal), and you get a rustic loaf of bread -- crunchy, thick crust encasing a moist, chewy, yeasty, and slightly sweet inside. Lovely. Other than the ingredients, you need some kind of big, heavy, dutch oven that will retain moisture. I used my Pampered Chef Deep Covered Baker. (No, I am not a consultant, I just have a lot of friends who are. So I have a lot of the stuff.)
Start by dissolving 1/4 tsp yeast in 1 1/2 cups of warm water in a large bowl. (Yes, that's my Pampered Chef Classic Batter Bowl.)
Add the flour and salt, stirring until blended.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at least 8 hours, preferably 12-18 hours at warm room temperature. (I let mine rest for about 20 hours and my indoor house temperature during Michigan winter was warm enough.)
The dough is ready when it's surface is dotted with bubbles.
Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it.
Sprinkle the dough with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest for about 15 minutes.
Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or to your fingers, gently shape it into a ball. Generously coat a clean dish towel with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal. (Again, I used cornmeal. And my laptop to see the recipe.)
Put the seam side of the dough down on the towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal.
Cover with another towel and let rise for about 1 to 2 hours. (I let it rise for 2 hours.) When it's ready, the dough will have doubled in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
At least 20 minutes before the dough is ready, heat oven to 475 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot in the oven as it heats.
When the dough it ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven and lift off the lid. Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. the dough will lose its shape a bit in the process, but that's OK. give the pan a firm shake or two to help distribute the dough evenly, but don't worry if it's not perfect; it will straighten out as it bakes.
Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid...
...and bake another 15 to 20 minutes (I baked it another 15 minutes), until the loaf is beautifully browned. Remove the bread from the Dutch oven and let it cool on a rack for at least 1 hour before slicing.
Then, you can slice it and enjoy it :-)
This was by far the easiest experience I have ever had making yeast bread, including using a bread machine. And this was my first attempt. I'd say give it a try; you won't regret it. I sure didn't.