One of my fondest childhood memories is watching my Danish-Argentine grandmother make homemade bread at her kitchen counter. She made it look so easy! I stood on my tippy-toes to get the best view possible, and watched in awe as the magic of breadmaking happened right before my eyes: the simplest and most timeless of ingredients, flour, yeast, water and salt, were (miraculously) transformed into a dough that would rest, rise and later on become beautiful rolls. My grandma didn’t explain the science behind making bread, but she did show me how. She kneaded the dough by hand—no stand mixer in her kitchen—and with every stroke, she infused equal parts love and mastery for the glutens in the flour to develop and transform it into a beautiful boule. Intuitively, I grasped the fact that she made it look easy, but that it was a skill she had honed over many years and probably learned from the hands of her own mom. All the women on my grandma’s side of the family have a history of baking and cooking delicious food, and she is no exception, even if she is exceptionally good at it.
Making homemade bread is something she still does every week. She prefers making her own bread to buying it, and while making bread for her was -still is- a routine task, one she clearly loves doing, watching her as a child was more of an entertainment for me. It was such a joy to see her bake and cook! So once I was old enough, I gathered the courage to ask her if she could teach me how to do it. The tricky thing is that my grandma is one of those brilliant cooks who made everything “a ojo,” or as they say in Italy, “ad occhio,” which literally means “by eye.” She never really measured any of the ingredients, and she intuitively knew the right amounts of each of them as well as how long to knead it or mix it, relying exclusively on how the dough smelled, looked, and felt. I was too young to learn that, but she did enlist me to dutifully shape the dough into little rolls, and eventually she did teach me to make her famous sesame dinner rolls, since they were my favorite type of bread.
To this day, every time I make bread at home, whether it is a burnished, braided loaf of challah, or a regiment of petite dinner rolls, or the snail-shaped marzipan Advent bread I make during the holidays, or rustic malted wheat bread, or saffron-infused Lucia buns, or Honey Bear Asian milk bread, I am always transported back to her kitchen and back to that time when we cooked together and I had the privilege to be learning by her side.
But what if I hadn’t learned from her how to make bread, and had wanted to? Or what if I didn’t have masses of time at home to wait for the dough to rise and work its magic and punch it down and let it rise a second time? Does not having the time or a talented baker as a grandma preclude one from making one’s own bread at home? Definitely not! And in fact, it is my love for breadmaking and the wish to share it with anybody who wants to give it a try that inspired this post, so that breadmaking can be easy and accessible.
Many of you voted on my poll question on Instagram @carolsbakingadventures that you would be interested in an easy, no-knead bread recipe that doesn’t require any fancy kitchen equipment or hard-to-find ingredients and that would yield a hassle-free, beautiful golden boule of country-style artisan bread, and this is the recipe I bring to you today. This recipe is a great place to start if you’ve never made your own bread. It will teach you how easy it is to make your own loaf at home, and the tips in this recipe make it almost fail-proof. I recommend assembling the dough the night before and letting it rise all night; and then in the morning, you preheat the oven, heat up your cast-iron pot, and bake it for breakfast. The resulting bread is a large, artisan-style bread boule with a thick crust and a dense, tender crumb that is simple and super-satisfying. It works great for toast, served as an accompaniment for soup or salad, and to support substantial toppings like pasture-raised butter, fresh avocado, a fried egg, thick puddles of jam, or even a generous swath of Argentine dulce de leche, as was the case for me when I was little. You will love breadmaking and you will love this bread, and trust me, there is no better scent in the world than a golden loaf of freshly-baked bread emerging from the oven in the morning! And hey! With some luck, not only might it become a relaxing routine that yields a delicious result, but it can become an old-fashioned skill you can pass on to other friends and family members. It can become a gem of a memory!
No-Knead Artisan (Dutch Oven) Bread
Bake time: 42-45 minutes
Rest: 12-18 hours
Servings: 16 thick slices
- 4 cups all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached
- 2 tsp Celtic salt
- ½ tsp heaped active dry yeast
- 2 cups lukewarm water
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, Celtic salt, and yeast. Stir well to make sure that the yeast and salt are evenly distributed in the flour.
- Make a well in the center and pour in the warm water, followed by the olive oil. Make sure that the water is warm, but not hot, or it will kill the yeast and your bread will not rise. An easy way to know is to test the water with your fingertip. If it’s too hot for your finger, it will be too hot for the yeast. You can also measure the temperature of the water and make sure it’s not over 110°F.
- Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until a shaggy, scruffy ball forms. You can toss it into your stand mixer fitted with the dough hook on the lowest setting for about 2 minutes, if you don’t want to do it by hand, and want a dough really smooth and elastic, but you can definitely do this by hand and avoid getting your stand mixer dirty. If you feel that the dough is too dry, add a little bit of water 1 tbsp at a time. The resulting dough should be smooth and elastic.
- Form the dough into a ball and place it in a large oiled bowl. Partially cover with plastic wrap or completely cover with a kitchen towel, to make sure it has some air to breathe. Let stand for 12-18 hours or overnight at room temperature.
- The next morning, or when the rising is done, preheat the oven to 450°F.
- Place a Dutch oven or cast-iron pot with a lid into the preheated oven and heat the empty pot for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, uncover the dough, which should be about doubled in size by now, and turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Lightly knead for a few strokes, shape it into a dough, and place it onto a floured sheet of parchment paper, allowing it to rest while the pot is getting heated in the oven.
- When the empty pot has been heated for 30 minutes, remove it from the oven, carefully place the parchment paper holding your ball of dough into the hot pot. Cover the pot with its lid and return it to the oven for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, remove the lid from the pot and let the bread bake uncovered for 12 minutes, or until achieving a lightly golden hue.
- Remove the pot from the oven and place it on a surface with a trivet to cool at room temperature. Do not expose your freshly-baked bread to very cold air, like you would cool a tray of cookies. That will spasm the bread.
- After it has cooled, slice to serve. Store your bread boule in an airtight container. Your bread will stay fresh for about 3-4 days, depending on the humidity of the climate.
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