"There is another kind of revolution, one that does not emerge from the culture, from philosophy, from theory, from thought abstracted from sense, but instead from our bodies and from the land."
Derrick Jensen ~ A Language Older than Words
Yes, I know: you think I'm making absurd
claims to attract your attention. You can't bake bread in five minutes
, right? Wrong
: let me explain
. I'm talking about five minutes of your valuable time
, not how long the bread dough spends doing its thing
Paradoxically I developed this bread making procedure when I was living in Provence, one of the places in the world blessed with some of the very best bread. The reason why is simple to understand when you bear in mind that I was buried deep in the countryside on the northern reaches of the St. Victoire. My nearest baker was ten miles away...
So I developed this method to ensure crispy, fragrant, oven-fresh bread for my breakfast. It really does only require five minutes of your time to prepare the dough the night before and let it rise slowly overnight.
In the evening I'd whip up the dough using pastry hooks on my old hand blender and put the bowl away in a warm place, covered in an offcut from an old blanket. In winter it would sit near the fireplace. In the morning I'd scoop it all out onto a floured baking sheet, tuck in the edges to form a nice round shape, paint the surface with very strong tea with brown sugar, throw it in the electric oven, and switch the oven on from cold. I'd set the timer for one hour and the thermostat for maximum. The warm-up period allows the bubbles to expand while the surface is still wet and the result was always a golden loaf with a crunchy crust and the most wonderful large bubbles in the crumb. I was pleased with my method, and thought nothing more of it.
Imagine my surprise when, years later, on the web, I came accross all the fuss being made about "no-knead bread"! It was pretty much a carbon copy of my method developed in the depths of Provence. I've often reflected that Carl Jung had a point when he proposed synchronicity and the collective unconscious. The Ancients, of course, would have considered that entirely natural.
No-knead bread was made popular among home bakers by New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman, who described New York baker Jim Lahey's method in his November 8, 2006 column The Minimalist. Bittman praised the bread for its "great crumb, lightness, incredible flavor and enviable, crackling crust". Two years later, he noted the recipe's "immediate and wild popularity", and, since then, this method has spread around the world like wildfire in a host of blogs and websites.
Funny how things go isn't it? I have often had cause to ponder over this sort of "parallel genesis" of ideas. The History of human endeavor is full of such examples, in Science, in the Arts, in beliefs and archetypes. The weave of the human tapestry is shot full of such golden threads which join the most unlikely patterns into a rich-textured cloth.
This method of bread making relies on a very small quantity of yeast starter and a correspondingly long and slow rising. It is the long rise time which allows the gluten in the flour to develop, producing an elastic and sticky dough which retains the bubbles responsible for the wonderful crumb structure. The very low yeast content allows fine fragrant aromas to develop and ensures these are not overcome by the stench of yeast. More salt is used in this method as this aids the development of the gluten.
To make the dough, combine four cups (500 g) of good strong bread flour, a quarter teaspoon at most (1 g) of instant granulated yeast and 1 1/2 teaspoons (10 g) of sea salt with 1 3/4 cup (425 ml) of water, working the ingredients together for 5 minutes or so. I used pastry hooks on an ancient Moulinex hand mixer for convenience, but you can easily do it by hand with a bit of elbow grease. The dough is then allowed to rise, covered, for 12 to 18 hours until doubled in size and full of bubbles. The measurements given above are a guide and will depend very much on the flour you are using. There is also a certain tolerance. Start with these proportions and increase or decrease the water as necessary. Here, experience will be your guide to improvement, but more water will tend to achieve larger bubbles but a lower loaf.
So there you have it: it is easy to make delicious bread with only a few minutes of your actual time—provided you let time work in your favor. While you slumber, the dough is busily working away on your behalf. Have fun and develop your very own personalized formula by refining the basic recipe. Just remember the basic principles, and only vary the parameters slightly each time. Try to vary only one parameter at a time, failing which you will never be able to make any sense of your experiments.
Once you have the basic method off pat, and you are successfully producing bread to your taste, you can start including additions such as black olives, roughly chopped walnuts, little chunks of parmesan cheese, chunks of bitter black chocolate, rougly chopped apple, chunks of dried apricots, pistacchio nuts, chopped pecans, raisins, chunks of good dry salame, crumbled crispy bacon, ... your taste and imagination are the only limits. You can also enrich the basic dough with whole eggs lightly beaten, or with egg yolks. A small quantity of melted butter or of good olive oil to the dough will also provide interesting variants.
One interesting variant, which is popular with my fellow hunters around easter, is to stuff each loaf with hard-boiled egg and salame. To do this, slice your hard-boiled eggs and salame or saucisson quite thickly, say between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick. Then form a "sausage" by assembling alternate layers of hard-boiled egg and salame. Now, slit the loaf on the baking sheet with a sharp knife, push in your egg/salame sausage and pinch the dough back closed over the top. Then paint with the tea and brown sugar mixture and bake as usual. Another interesting variant is to scatter sesame seeds, poppy seeds, fennel seeds or caraway seeds over the loaf after painting with the tea and sugar mix. The variants are really infinite and some are really excellent. Experiment!
If bread be the staff of like, man lives not on bread alone. Both his mind and his spirit need equal sustenance and it has long been man's amusement—and woman's too—to pit their wits against a riddle. The following poem, of which I am inordinately proud—for I call a spade a spade and do not deal in false modesty, only in true humility—is also a mystery wrapped around a riddle: be the first to solve the riddle and you stand to win 100 GP!
Why split twigs: adjourn!
Journalists whiten ghost's dots: a nude ant.
By Bob, mend me cage!
Loosing enfranchisement: alias moron.
Justifiers bely man's ram:
Ode, or leveled movement?
The tie thong.
Fuchsia rag, or orb?
A brackish tick.
Me: sinuous, unreachable;
I: fake vet.
At slum avenue,
A dense moonlighter;
Ha! Hi, toilet chef:
A machine-like teleology—a haunt.
No tame worksheet
Strengthened banal raps.
My nun's boatyard,
No nodding gymnasium crown.
A caviar slag aid,
A threat intake;
In a haunting, I sit.
Necessary baby, I mime pie.
An astronomic sea
Do interferon, or dip thoughtfulness!
A number of people were concerned about not having dough hooks; let me assure you that this is purely a question of convenience. I have, many a time, made bread this way entirely by hand. Just use whatever is handy, and have fun!
Consult Cooking Conversion Table for all your weights and measures queries!