Five-Minute No-Knead Boule Dough

With my friendship bread starter now sitting forlornly in the freezer, my colleague Carol must have sensed that I needed a new project. A bread fan, Carol used to make her own on a regular basis when she was a stay-at-home mom–a feat that to me sounds only slightly easier than baking a souffle during the Allied bombing of Dresden, or maybe wrestling sharks.

Now that Carol works full-time and has two teen-agers, baking bread from scratch has been relegated to the same status as enjoying a peaceful dinner or reading a book from start to finish–a rare event to be celebrated and enjoyed. But a few weeks ago, she seemed to have found a solution in several recipes from Mother Earth News featuring “five-minute bread.”

I’d first heard about this phenomenon on NPR’s The Splendid Table with Lynne Rossetto Kasper, in which she interviewed Jeff Hertzberg MD and Zoe Francois, authors of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking. Though I generally avoid cookbooks written by doctors, on the theory that they’re less about food and more about promoting the doctor’s latest theory, I was intrigued.

Google soon let me know that once again I was on the trailing edge of culinary trends. Apparently the New York Times published a “no-knead bread” recipe in 2006 that made the rounds of the internet and spawned a host of knock-offs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were earlier versions.

I read this news with a sense of pleasantly smug, self-righteous superiority. It seems that Dr. Herzberg’s “discovery” is that you make extra no-knead bread dough and use it any time over the course of two weeks. (His other tip is to add hot water to a pan in the oven during baking, which also does something important but I’m not sure what.) You just store it in the refrigerator and pull off chunks when you want to bake it.

I could have thought of that, I sniffed haughtily to myself. Of course, Lynne Rosetto Kasper is interviewing Dr. Hertzberger. I’m still waiting for her to call me.

And the bread has been a boon to Fred and me. We’ve had fresh-baked bread with several meals, and the recipe can also be used for pizza dough. I’ll share that technique in a future post.

Five-Minute No-Knead Boule Dough

The recipe below is a mishmash (hence the name), cobbled together from the Hertzberg/Francois five-minute bread, the recipe Carol gave me, and various internet sources. The original amount of flour in several of the recipes, 6½ cups, has not worked for me in all circumstances. It’s probably because I’ve been trying several varieties of flour. The important thing is not so much the amount of flour but the final consistency of the dough. The range given here should allow for the many different types of flour you might use at home.

Note that bread flour will also work in this recipe. The amount used will tend toward the lower end of the range.

6 1/2 – 8 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
3 c. lukewarm water (test on the inside of your wrist)
1 1/2 tbsp. yeast
1 1/2 tbsp. kosher salt

Add yeast and salt to water in a 5 quart bowl and stir. Add 6 1/2 cup flour with a wooden spoon and stir until uniformly moist. Dough should be soft and conform to container. If it is too thin (e.g., the consistency of thick cake batter), add more floor until it just holds together into a ball but is still soft. Cover loosely with towel and let rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse or flatten on top, 2 – 5 hours. At this point you can refrigerate dough in lidded but not airtight container for up to two weeks. (Refrigerated dough is easier to work with.)

On baking day, sprinkle cornmeal on pizza peel. Dust surface of dough and your hands with flour and pull off a piece the size of a large grapefruit or small cantaloupe. Hold dough in your hands; add flour as needed to keep from sticking. Gently stretch dough and turn ends under to form a ball. Stir in any flour remaining on top of dough and return to the refrigerator.

Place ball on pizza peel. Let rest uncovered for 40 minutes. Preheat oven to 450 with a baking stone on middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on lower rack. Slash 1-2 1/4 inch deep marks on top of dough. Sprinkle top with flour if desired.

Slide dough onto baking stone. Quickly pour 1 cup hot water into broiler tray and close oven door to trap steam. Bake 30 minutes or until crust is browned and firm. Cool before slicing.

Dough can also be frozen in 1 pound portions in an airtight container and thawed in refrigerator before baking.

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