No kneading is just one wonderful aspect of this bread. It’s also delicious! It has a crusty exterior and holes inside like sourdough bread, indicating long, chewy gluten strands.
It’s 10 minutes of work, including cleanup, over a 24 hour period.
The recipe was invented by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York. He asked New York Times columnist Mark Bittman to popularize it in 2006, saying “Make sure everyone has access to it. That’s the goal.”
You will need an oven-safe pot with a lid. It can be glass, ceramic, iron… The bottom diameter can be 15-20cm diameter in any shape. It should be at least 15cm tall but taller is fine. You can use this pot as the “bowl” if you want.
Purchase a very finely milled white flour. In the US this will be called “unbleached white all purpose”. In Argentina, it’s 1000. In Italy it’s 00. In Germany choose the lowest number you can get, in the 400s or 500s, because this number indicates the amount of minerals in the bread and the higher numbers have too much heavy minerals.
Mix with your hands (because they are more effective and easier to clean than a spoon):
- 3 cups flour
- 1/4 tsp yeast
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 5/8 cups water (that’s 1.5 cups plus 2 tbsp)
The result may be quite wet and soupy. That’s ok.
1st nap: Cover bowl with lid or a plate. Let rest at room temperature at least 12 hours, but 18 or 24 (or 48) is fine too. If it’s winter and your house is cold, put it in a warm place.
The next day… Countdown to hot bread is 2 hours and 45 minutes, during which you’ll have to do about 5 minutes of work in 4 interactions.
2nd nap: Sprinkle LOTS of flour on a smooth surface (wooden board or clean table is better than a textured plastic board). Dump the very sticky dough from the bowl onto the the surface. Sprinkle a lot of flour on the dough. Fold it over on itself once or twice. Leave it alone for 15 minutes. Wash the bowl immediately with water and a hard plastic scraper. Avoid sponges (if you’re not sure why, try and then you’ll know).
3rd nap: Shape the dough into a ball (or as close to a ball as you can get it, given that it may still be very mushy). As you are tucking the dough into a ball, keep the smooth side up. Cover with a clean smooth cotton or linen tea-towel, if you have one. Leave it alone for 1.5 hours.
Preheat oven AND pot: Put the pot with lid into the oven. Preheat the oven at 450 degrees F (232 C) for 30 minutes.
Working quickly but safely, carefully take that hot pan out of the oven. Be mindful of the hot lid! Sprinkle a little of any large raw grain into the bottom of the pan to prevent the bread from sticking (polenta, rice, quinoa, millet, oats…). Then drop the dough into the pan. Try to turn it upside down on the way from the nap to the pan so that the “seam” from the bottom of the ball ends up on the top of the bread. Put the ¡HOT! lid on the pot and get the pot back into the oven asap.
Bake for 30 minutes. If it’s starting to brown at this point it’s probably done. Dump the bread out of the pan and knock on the bottom. If it sounds hollow it’s done. If the bread smells yeasty or if it is not yet brown, put it back in the oven without the pot for another 10-20 minutes. How long is a matter of unpredictable oven temperature and your crust preferences. Check it every 5 minutes until you get to know your oven and preferences. If you want a crisper crust, but it’s already brown when you take it out of the pot, turn the oven off and put the bread back in for a few minutes.
Because people are not used to meeting 400 degree pot lids, I always leave one of my hot pads on top of that freakish hot lid as a deterrent to burned hands. Or put it somewhere safe, like back in the oven.
- It’s hard to cut the bread when it’s hot, so use a sharp knife and saw gently, but manage this somehow because it’s soooo delicious! Have butter ready.
- STORAGE: Do NOT put the bread in plastic. Do NOT put the bread in the refrigerator. Store in a brown paper bag, or wrapped in the tea towel. After the 2nd day, toast for best flavor.
- PROPER TOASTING: You should feel “twoness” when you gently squeeze the center of the toast. It should feel like souffle on the inside and crispy on on the surface. Before you get to this point, it’s inadequately toasted.
- To make a multigrain bread, use white flour but during Mix, add up to 4 handfuls of any uncooked seeds and grains (wheat berries, rice, buckwheat, flaxseed, quinoa, barley…). They will become soft during overnight 1st nap.
- If you want to add fresh herbs, olives, caramelized onions, dried fruit, or nuts, stir them into the bowl just before dumping out the dough for 2nd Nap.
- Raisin walnut bread: Add 1/4 cup of buckwheat flour to Mix. Add 3/4 cup raisins and 3/4 cup walnuts just before 2nd nap.
- Butter bread: Between 2nd and 3rd nap, press dough flat and spread lots of butter on it. Fold in half, push flat, add more butter. Do this 7 times, then tuck the sides under to form a ball. Beware that after making this bread once, your friends will declare their love for you.