Baking for the terminally harried: Nancy Baggett’s no-knead bread

As far as I’m concerned, there are few things in the world that are as wonderful as a really nice, fresh loaf of bread. It’s so simple, so honest, such an easy vehicle for peanut butter…and such a pain in the ass to make when you, like many urban professionals these days, have approximately 2.3 minutes to spare of a week (and about 2.3 square inches of counter space, but that’s a totally separate gripe). Extra double pain in the ass points if you have to spend those 2.3 minutes doing something else, like your taxes.
Nancy Baggett's no-knead bread
Fortunately for all us professional carbivores, Nancy Baggett has come up with a solution: an entire cookbook full of no-knead bread recipes! Admittedly, when Maggie first suggested I take a look at Kneadlessly Simple, I was skeptical; though the no-knead craze has unquestionably been storming the intarwebs, I was not convinced that there was enough there to write an entire book about. I was wrong. In this well-crafted tome, Baggett not only offers up many beautiful, original no-knead items (most of which require only one bowl and one spoon to assemble), but goes in to loving detail about how you can adapt your own established and beloved recipes to fit into the no-knead structure.
Nancy Baggett's no-knead bread

That’s right. According to  Baggett, all bread has the potential to be no-knead bread. And, frankly, after reading her extremely thorough description of why and how no-knead bread works, I have to admit: I think she’s on to something. The chemistry behind it really makes a lot of sense. The trick of it, according to Baggett, is the long, slow rising process, during which the carbon dioxide bubbles created by the fermenting yeast gently stretch the gluten molecules in a way that almost approximates the effect of kneading; it’s not entirely unlike having your very own dedicated kitchen elf. The downside? It takes at least 24 hours to make this work. Fortunately, you only need to be in the room for about 3.5 minutes of that time.

The recipe I chose to tackle from this book was the Crusty White Peasant Style Pot Loaf, chewy of crumb and more or less idiotproof. Unsurprisingly, the dough came together very easily, and it behaved exactly as Baggett said it would, rising slowly but surely and smelling amazing. No surprises: Win. The truly amazing part of this bread, however, is the crust–baked inside a covered pot in your oven, the crust comes out crispy and crackly, just like a proper bakery loaf should. It’s like having an oven within an oven.  It turned out so smashingly that I made a second loaf almost immediately, this time stirring in a few tablespoons of leftover pesto. Because I’m a humanitarian, I won’t say any more about it, as I don’t want you to expire from longing.

I WILL say that I found this book very informative, and that it had several recipes that I’m looking forward to trying (chocolate honey cake, anyone?); plus, her extremely thorough descriptions make the recipes very easy to follow. Frankly, the only real gripe I have about it is that every recipe calls for instant yeast, and for reasons totally unknown it took me five tries to find the damn stuff in New York City. I rather suspect that if you live in a sensible place (i.e., anywhere else on this mighty earth), you won’t have such a problem.

The long and the short of it is this: if you love fresh bread, hate a messy kitchen, never have any time, and are transfixed by (pretty amazing, actually) displays of kitchen alchemy, you would do yourself a disservice to not check out this book. For serious.

Crusty peasant-style pot loaf
from Kneadlessly Simple by Nancy Baggett

4 cups (20 oz) unbleached, all-purpose white flour
1 tsp granulated sugar
2 tsp table salt
3/4tsp instant yeast
2 cups ice water
Corn oil, canola oil, or other flavorless vegetable oil or oil spray for coating the dough.

  1. In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Add the water a little bit at a time until all ingredients are thoroughly blended. Note: this is a very stiff dough, and should be difficult to stir. Brush or spray the top with oil and cover the bowl for plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 3-10 hours.
  2. Remove from refrigerator and put the bowl somewhere cool; let rise for another 18-24 hours.
  3. Using a well-oiled rubber spatula, gently lift and fold the dough towards the center all the way around until mostly deflated. Do not stir. Brush or spray with oil, replace the plastic wrap.
  4. Let rise in a warmish room for 1 1/2-2 1/2 hours. If you’re in a rush, let it stand in a turned-off microwave with a cup of boiling water for 1-2 hours. Or, if you have all the time in the world, whack it back in the fridge for 4 to 24 hours–however long it takes to double in size.
  5. 20 minutes before you start baking, put a 3 1/2-4 quart pan (with tight-fitting lid–this is very important!) in your oven and crank up the heat to 450F. After 20 minutes, remove the pot (please, please be careful not to burn yourself); loosen the dough from the sides of the bowl (be careful not to deflate!) using an oiled rubber spatula and gently turn the dough out into the pot. It may hiss and spit at you a bit. This is okay. Brush or spritz the top with water (I also added a little salt, which was an excellent idea indeed) and put the lid on the pot. Shake it gently to center the dough.
  6. Reduce the heat to 425; bake the covered pot on the lowest rack for 55 minutes. Then, remove the lid, and bake for 15-20 minutes longer, or until the top is well-browned  and a skewer inserted into the thickest part of the loaf comes out with just a few crumbs on the tip.
  7. Then, bake it for 5 minutes longer.
  8. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 or 15 minutes; then, remove the loaf to the rack and cool thoroughly.
In baking, bread

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