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Making Do Never Looked So Good: Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread

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My Sicilian great-grandfather, an immigrant to this country, was always making do. My grandfather would laughingly recount how at meal times, his dad would look at the family and say, "You take five bites of bread, and one bite of meat." That was the ratio that would make sure everyone was well fed without breaking the family's meager budget. All these years later, my family is making do quite a lot of the time, too, and my great-grandfather's ratio of bread to meat is just about dead on.

There are lots of ways to make bread at home, but my favorite is Jim Lahey's (the owner of NYC's Sullivan Street Bakery) no-knead method. It's been talked about here, there, and everywhere, and for good reason. There is truly no kneading. All that's involved is a lot of letting the dough sit on your kitchen counter, followed by a really hot stint in your oven. And the taste? This bread will make you swoon it's so good. In fact, it can be hard to believe that this luxurious, comforting, crusty loaf of bread (coming out of your oven, no less!) is made only of flour, water, salt and yeast. Whenever I make it, I feel like a magician, taking a meal full of gaps and making it into an abundant whole. Making do very well, indeed.

Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread

Note: this makes a pretty large loaf of bread and unless you are feeding a large group, you will have leftovers. This is a great opportunity to make toasts (slice bread and rub with olive oil and garlic and bake at 375 degrees F for 10 minutes or so). You can top toasts with anything you like (cheese, fried egg, wilted greens, all of the above, etc, etc). You can make fresh breadcrumbs. Or, you can remove the crust from the leftover bread, tear it in pieces, toss the pieces with olive oil and a bit of salt, bake until crunchy, and have the best croutons you have ever tasted.

3 cups (430g) flour
1½ cups (345g or 12oz) water
¼ teaspoon (1g) yeast
1¼ teaspoon (8g) salt
olive oil (for coating)
extra flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal (for dusting)

special equipment: a 6-8 quart pot with lid (Pyrex glass, cast iron, or ceramic)

Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Add the water and mix with a wooden spoon or spatula until the flour is incorporated (not more than a minute). The dough will be pretty shaggy and sticky. Lightly oil another medium-sized bowl or large container with a lid and transfer the dough. Cover with plastic wrap or top and let sit for 12-18 hours at room temperature (about 70 degrees F).

When the time is up (the dough will have lots of small bubbles on the surface), use a spatula to remove the dough, in one piece, from the container to a well floured surface. With floured hands, gently fold the dough over on itself once or twice (in half is fine). Let sit for 15-30 minutes more and then shape into a ball. Move dough to one half of a floured towel (not terry cloth, but a smooth kitchen towel). Sprinkle the top with flour and cover with the rest of the towel. Let rise for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in size.

In the last part of the rise preheat the oven to 450-500 degrees F. Place your baking vessel and lid in the oven to preheat, as well. Once the dough has doubled in size, take the hot pot out of oven, take off the lid and place the dough in the pot seam side up. Don't worry what it looks like at this point. You can transfer the dough to the pot while still on the towel by picking up the towel like a tray with two hands. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover the pot and let bake for 15-30 more minutes. Remove from the oven and pot and let cool completely (if you can stand it) on a rack.