Easy, no-knead artisan bread:
While I can make a mean banana muffin I am no baker – and although I love the idea of baking my own bread, the reality of doing that just for myself has always been a step too far. Even when I’ve been given a breadmaker to try, my issue has been that the amount of effort to produce an artisan loaf for one or two people really does seem to outweigh the joy of freshly baked crusty bread. The technique popularised by Jeffrey Hertzberg and Zoe Francois though, to make an easy artisan bread dough changes all of that.
Instead of labouriously making fresh dough every day, kneading, proving, kneading again and baking, this method involves making a kindergarten style gloopy mixture of flour, water and yeast in a large enough quantity to bake several loaves over several days. When you want to bake, all you do is pull off the quantity of dough you need, let it rise and then bake it. The result, an easy artisan loaf that would cost you three or four times the price of the raw ingredients if you bought it at the supermarket.
I started by following their master recipe. I have to confess it didn’t quite work for me and I suspect that comes down to two key issues. Firstly, I wanted to make a smaller quantity of the dough to store – with the best will in the world, 2 pounds of flour seemed overwhelming to me when I am not just cooking for a small household. I also have a London style small fridge combined with freezer, so I don’t have space to store large quantities of slowly maturing bread dough. I tried to half the quantities and the bread didn’t quite work. Secondly, I don’t think my fan oven works particularly well for baking this style of bread, even if you do add a pan of water to the bottom of the oven. Finally, I find it much easier to use metric measurements – I buy my flour in 500g bags so I don’t even have to weigh it out!
Researching a little more, I discovered that no-knead artisan bread can also be baked in a cast iron casserole or Dutch oven. I have quite a collection of cast iron casseroles and my second attempt, using the smallest of the set (24cm) as a way to keep a high level of steam in the bread, was far more successful.
Then I learnt that the second proving period might need adapting. There seem to be plenty of variations to the original recipe where the second proving is a minimum of 90 minutes and a recommended 2 hours. I tend towards impatience and so I’d attempted the recipe using a 90 minute second prove. But, for my third and most successful attempt, I used a 2 hour second prove. I don’t know whether it is that the temperature of my basement kitchen is generally around 18-19C, even in summer, so I need a longer proving period or whether there are differences in the yeast and flour that I am using which make this longer prove period necessary.
I also used polenta to dust the loaf, which gives a nice extra crunch to the crust. I don’t think I’ve quite mastered the slashes to the top of the bread yet – but while I might not have the prettiest baby in the show, I’m really proud of the texture once the bread is cut which is somewhere like a cross between a normal white boule and a sour-dough and with the lovely crust.
I’m still making smaller quantities – 500g of flour gives me two decent sized loaves or three small ones (depending on whether I have guests or not). And I’m still experimenting with how to smarten up the look of my loaf. But, I’m happy enough now to share the basic method that works for me to make smallish loaves of 5-minute easy artisan bread in the UK.
Bake your own artisan bread with minimum effort. This recipe is for a small household and will make 2-3 loaves of bread using a basic dough which can be kept in the fridge for a couple of weeks. Double the quantities if you want to make more loaves of artisan bread during that period
- 500 g plain flour
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 1 packet fast action yeast 7 g
- 450 ml water
- polenta or cornmeal for dusting
Mix the flour and salt together with the yeast in a large plastic tub or bowl
Using a large fork, stir in the water until you have a sticky mixture
Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rise at room temperature for 2-3 hours or up to 12 hours (make sure you use a jug which is at least 3 x the size of the dough)
If you intend using the dough in two batches, after 2-3 hours put the mixture into the fridge and leave for at least another 12 hours
Flour a work surface and pull off half of the dough. dust with more flour and gently fold and form the dough into a 'boule' shape
Sprinkle with a little more flour
Put a large square of baking paper on a clean tea towel and coat generously with polenta or cornmeal. Put the boule in the centre of the towel. Sprinkle with a little more polenta or cornmeal on top of the boule. Fold the top of the paper and the material over so you have a loosely wrapped parcel and leave to prove for a further 2 hours
30 minutes before the dough is ready, preheat the oven to 220C with whatever you are planning to use to bake your bread. I am working with a medium size cast iron casserole or Dutch oven.
When the dough has proved for at least 2 hours take the casserole from the oven and either turn the 'boule' into it or simply pick up the baking paper carefully and drop it in. Shake the pot gently to distribute the dough and score the top with a serrated bread knife
Cover the pot and bake in the oven for 20 minutes
After 20-25 minutes (depending on the size of the loaf) take the lid off and continue to bake for a further 10-15 minutes until the loaf is brown and the crust is crispy
Turn out onto a wire rack and cool for at least 20 minutes before attempting to slice!
I haven’t tried making larger loaves as the raw dough will keep for up to 20 days in the fridge. Instead, I bake a smallish loaf suitable for 2 or 3 people. If you want to make a larger loaf using all the dough, obviously you will need a large casserole, but you will also need to adjust the cooking time (I’d suggest experimenting with 30 minutes with the lid on then up to another 30 minutes to brown and finish the loaf.
If you’d like to try more ideas, I’d recommend buying the original book by Jeffrey Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, where you’ll find a host of recipes based on the no knead artisan bread principle.
Want to try my version for artisan bread with metric measurements for yourself? Here’s a pin to save the recipe for later.