Over a year ago I wrote a blog about making no-knead bread in an enameled cast iron pot. Although it is a great blog, I felt the “knead” to rewrite it because of a significant lesson I’ve learned since I initially published the blog.
The original recipe came from a website called simplysogood.com and although I basically use that recipe there are many others out there that have slightly different variations and still produce this wonderful, easy to make bread. The key to success in this recipe is not the mixing (that is by far the easy part) but rather the handling of the dough, getting it prepped and into a screaming hot enameled cast iron pot. So I am going to revisit this recipe, rate it and give you my lessons learned. Hopefully these lessons will help you get your desired result much quicker than I did.
RECIPE RATING: A for the pictures and step-by-step instructions, C-for advice on how to prep the dough. If you go to the website and search for the recipe you will find wonderfully detailed pictures of the process for making the bread and I like that. The thing that I feel is misleading is the information on the dough prep right before putting it into the oven and I will address that in my lessons learned.
LESSON LEARNED 1 – MIXING THE DOUGH: In my mind there is nothing easier than the initial mixing of the dough in this recipe. It requires only 4 simple ingredients and time. By time I mean a minimum of 12 hours to let the dough cure and the longer the better, even up to 18 hours. As stated on the website, this recipe is very forgiving so if you make the bread after 11 hours of curing or even after 24 hours you will still get a great bread. From a mixing standpoint there is little if anything you can do to ruin the dough.
LESSON LEARNED 2 – TO FLOUR OR NOT TO FLOUR: This is perhaps where I disagree the most with the original recipe. In that recipe it calls for you to “flour the heck” out of the surface that you place the dough on after initially removing it from the bowl. One thing is for sure, the dough is very, very sticky and you need something to help you manage it. But in my experience the dough is also much looser than what you see in the pictures and all the flour in the world does not get it to form as round of a ball as depicted on the website. What tends to happen as you try to get some shape to the dough is it rolls back over on itself trapping small pockets of flour on the bottom of the loaf and I can tell you from much experience that they do not magically disappear when the bread is baking. Your slices wind up having pockets of flour packed into the bottom crust. There were may times I had to cut off about a 1/4 inch off the bottom of the loaf just to remove those baked-in flour pockets.
Try as I may, whenever I tried to shape the dough on a floured surface (and I tried all amounts of flour to see what might be the right combination), it would roll over on itself and create the flour pockets. And because the dough is loose, it also is a challenge to transfer it from one surface to another without creating additional pockets. The original recipe states that after you’ve formed the loaf to let it rest covered in plastic wrap while the enameled cast iron pot is heating in the oven. Then you can either just put the dough in the heated enamel pot or line the pot with parchment paper and put the dough on the parchment paper and into the pot. Either way, once cooked the dough will not stick to either surface and the parchment paper will not burn. That is true. But trying to move the dough from one surface to another was almost an impossible task, especially when dealing with a cast iron pot that has been in the oven for a half hour at 450 degrees. Over and over I kept trying to make this recipe work as written until I realized I was flirting with the definition of insanity, that being doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I became very frustrated with the recipe and almost gave up on it but then I came up with an ingenious idea.
(upper left: dough after 18 hours – upper right: laying out the parchment paper mold – lower left: – dough resting in parchment paper – lower right: dough right out of the oven before removed from the pot)
Here is how I solved the flour dilemma. Before I heat the cast iron pot I measure the amount of parchment paper I need to line the inside of the pot and cut the mold. Then I place the parchment paper mold into a high rimmed bowl. I take the other bowl with the dough, use a spatula and systematically scrape the dough into a ball and move the ball toward the rim of the bowl. Once I have it near the rim of the bowl I scrape it into the bowl with the parchment paper mold and voila I have my rounded loaf resting in parchment paper. I cover that bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for 30 minutes while the cast iron pot is preheating in the oven. When it comes time to put the dough into the prepared enameled cast iron pot I just pick up the dough up by the edges of the parchment paper and transfer it quickly and without drama into the cast iron pan. It couldn’t be easier and I did not have to use one bit of flour. I no longer have any flour pockets on the bottom of my baked artisan bread!
I highly encourage you to try this recipe. It really is easy and makes perfect bread every time. My challenge was simply to eliminate the flour pockets in my otherwise perfect bread. I will write the recipe with the original instructions and with my recommendations. Try it both ways and see what works for you. And if you have an answer to the flour dilemma other than mine, I’d love to hear it. Also if your dough is not as loose as mine please let me know how you achieved that. Most recipes for making artisan bread that I’ve researched do not vary greatly in the ingredients and instructions, and most say that the dough will be loose and sticky so I’m thinking the flour on the bottom of the dough will continue to be a challenge. Let me know your thoughts or suggestions – I’d love to hear them.
Artisan No-Knead Bread…
3 cups unbleached flour
1 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. rapid rise yeast
1 1/2 cup water
(You can add a variety of herbs and fruits to this basic recipe. See picture below of cranberry walnut artisan bread. Just add 1/3 cup dried cranberries and 1/3 cup walnuts when making the dough)
In a large bowl whisk together flour, salt and yeast. Add water and mix until combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 12-18 hours. (overnight is the best).
Heat oven to 450 degrees. While oven is preheating, line your enameled cast iron pot with parchment paper and press the down the center, sides and top to form a clear outline of the pot. Cut the parchment paper along the edges (so that when you eventually place it back in the pot it won’t be hanging over the sides) and place the paper mold into a bowl that has a circumference close to the desired shape of a nicely rounded loaf. The recipe is very forgiving so don’t spend too much time worrying about the size bowl to put it in. When the oven is heated, place your enameled cast iron pot with lid into the oven and heat for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile take the dough that has been curing overnight and scrape it into a loosely formed ball inside the bowl its in and then drop it into the other bowl with the parchment paper mold. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest until the enameled cast iron pot is done heating. (The original recipe calls for you to put the dough on a heavily floured surface, shape into a ball and cover it with plastic wrap to rest while the pot is warming in the oven. You can try it this way if you want, but I found that I get pockets of flour that get baked into the bottom of the bread when I do it that way).
Once the pot is heated, quickly transfer the dough into the pot, cover and put back in the oven. (If you use the parchment paper method, just grab the paper on opposite sides and drop into the pot. Just make sure to remember that the pot is very hot. (If you don’t use the parchment paper method just drop the dough into the pot, cover and put in the oven.) You do not need to prepare the pot in any way. The dough will not stick to the surface nor will it stick to the parchment paper.
Bake for 30 minutes. Then remove the lid from the pot and bake for 10-15 minutes more. (I find that 10 minutes gives me the nice golden color you see in the picture at the beginning of this blog). Remove the bread from the oven and place on a cooling rack to cool.