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Headed out on your own? Here’s a no-knead bread for beginner bakers


Of all the fundamental kitchen skills for new cooks to learn, baking bread isn’t very high on the list.

It’s far more important to be able to roast or steam vegetables, boil a grain and saute a protein. Once you master those basic, easily interchangeable cooking methods, you can cook with just about anything on the outer edge of a grocery store, where you traditionally find unprocessed foods. That’s the healthiest, most affordable way to feed yourself, and that’s a plus no matter if you’re a new graduate or someone who has come to rely on eating prepared food for lunch and dinner every day.

Store-bought sandwich bread isn’t going to break your bank and, to be honest, is hard to re-create at home. However, it’s easier than you might think to bake nicer artisan breads at home, even if you’ve never baked before.

My first bread-baking attempts were while I was still in college. A friend had given me a copy of “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest” by Mollie Katzen, a delightful sketch artist and writer who walked me through a laborious technique that involved long kneading sessions. The truth is that I loved kneading bread for 20 minutes at a time — it was soothing — but it was time-consuming, and the final product was never as airy or crusty as I wanted.

It wasn’t until I found Jim Lahey’s no-knead recipe that I started baking bread now and then. I loved baking the moist, bubbly loaf in a hot cast-iron Dutch oven, but the dough still took some baking know-how to handle, and I didn’t experiment much with variations.

However basic it was, that was the only no-knead recipe I felt like I needed until Alexandra Stafford’s “Bread Toast Crumbs: Recipes for No-Knead Loaves & Meals to Savor Every Slice” (Clarkson Potter, $30) hit my desk a few weeks ago. The book is based on a single master recipe for a so-called peasant bread that her mother made just about every week. The dough balls are baked in a buttered Pyrex bowl. You can use any kind of oven-proof bowl, but the Pyrex ones are the easiest to find, especially in thrift stores.

I didn’t know you could bake in a Pyrex bowl, much less that it would be so suitable for creating a nice crust on a perfectly round loaf of bread, but how do you build a whole cookbook around a single bread recipe? By offering variations on that master recipe and dozens of ideas for how to use the slices, heels and even stale leftovers from the many loaves of bread the book will inspire you to bake.

Just how many loaves are we talking about? In the weeks after baking Stafford’s simplest loaf, I made loaves of cinnamon raisin, quinoa and flax, and olive bread, sometimes several times each. Each recipe makes two loaves, so I was always giving them away or tucking them into the freezer. During that bread-baking frenzy, my reward was the thickest, most tender slices of toast each morning, and I was reminded why it’s so fun to know how to bake bread.

That’s a wish I have for all cooks, which is why I’m publishing all three of these recipes, just in time for countless families to be sending their kids off into the next stage of their lives after graduation.

You make the bread in four steps: 1) Mix together the dry ingredients with a fork and then add the lukewarm water, folding the wet and dry ingredients together with a rubber spatula. 2) Let the dough rise in a warm area. 3) Divide dough into two bowls and let rise again. 4) Bake.

That simple, shaggy dough ball rises quickly and bakes beautifully in less time than it takes to finish an episode of whatever you’re bingeing on Netflix or Hulu right now. And the smell of bread baking enhances your Friday night lounging, I promise.

A few final tips before you break out your flour and dig into the pantry for a Pyrex bowl:

  • Use yeast that hasn’t expired. If you haven’t baked bread in years, throw away any yeast that might be in the cupboard. I store my yeast in the freezer so I don’t have to worry about it spoiling quite so fast.
  • Stafford recommends using instant yeast exclusively, but if all you have is active dry or RapidRise yeast, don’t stress about it. The leavening will vary slightly between them, but I’ve used them all with success.
  • I like to use a scale when making these breads to measure the dry ingredients, but don’t let that intimidate you. All you have to do is zero out (or tare) the scale each time you add a new ingredient by weight.
  • You can use other baking vessels than a Pyrex bowl, but I love the shape and ease of the bowls that have lips on the side for handles. They are easy to pull out of the oven and release the bread without having to use a knife.
  • It’s hard to resist cutting into the bread as soon as it’s out of the oven, but the loaf needs to cool before you slice it. I let mine cool on a wire rack, but a cutting board is fine, too.
  • Stafford suggests making lukewarm water by mixing together 1/2 cup boiling water and 1 1/2 cups cold water, but I always use the old trick of running the water on my wrist until it feels slightly warmer than my body temperature but not hot.

The Peasant Bread Master Recipe

Here it is: The no-knead bread recipe my mother has been making for 40 years, the one she taught me to make 20 years ago, the recipe I published on my blog in 2012, the recipe that inspired the creation of every recipe that follows in this book. This formula is simple — 4 cups flour, 2 cups water, 2 teaspoons each salt and sugar, and 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast — and can be adapted in countless ways. Make it once as described below, then tailor it to your liking.

— Alexandra Stafford

4 cups (512 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons sugar

2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast

2 cups lukewarm water

Softened unsalted butter, for greasing

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar and instant yeast. Add the water. Using a rubber spatula, mix until the water is absorbed and the ingredients form a sticky dough ball.

Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm spot to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the dough has doubled in bulk.

Set a rack in the middle of the oven and heat it to 425 degrees. Grease two 1-quart oven-safe bowls with the softened butter — be generous. Using two forks, deflate the dough by releasing it from the sides of the bowl and pulling it toward the center. Rotate the bowl quarter-turns as you deflate, turning the mass into a rough ball.

Using your two forks and, working from the center out, separate the dough into two equal pieces. Use the forks to lift each half of the dough into a prepared bowl. If the dough is too wet to transfer with forks, lightly grease your hands with butter or oil, then transfer each half to a bowl. Do not cover the bowls. Let the dough rise on the countertop near the oven (or another warm, draft-free spot) for 10 to 20 minutes, until the top of the dough just crowns the rims of the bowls.

Transfer the bowls to the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake for 17 to 20 minutes more, until evenly golden all around. Remove the bowls from the oven and turn the loaves out onto cooling racks. If the loaves look pale, return them to their bowls and bake for 5 minutes longer. Let the loaves cool for 15 minutes before cutting. Makes two 14-ounce loaves.

— From “Bread Toast Crumbs: Recipes for No-Knead Loaves & Meals to Savor Every Slice” by Alexandra Stafford (Clarkson Potter, $30)

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread

Nearly every morning for breakfast, I slather toast with butter, shower cinnamon and sugar over the top, and present the slices to the little ones surrounding my kitchen table. Nothing, however, beats the real thing: a tender, fragrant loaf, swirled with cinnamon and sugar. The key here is to allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes after deflating and portioning it, which relaxes the gluten, enabling it to stretch easily, therefore precluding the need for a rolling pin.

— Alexandra Stafford

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup water (or rum)

6 cups (768 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1/4 cup (55 grams) sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast

1 1/2 cups buttermilk or milk

1 cup boiling water

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Softened unsalted butter, for greasing pans

About 1/4 cup flour, for dusting clean surface

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water

Prepare the raisins by soaking them in just enough water or rum to cover, about 1/2 cup, for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar and instant yeast. Add the drained raisins and toss to coat. In a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, the boiling water and 1/2 cup water. Stir to combine, then add to the flour mixture, followed by the melted butter. Mix until the liquid is absorbed and the ingredients form a sticky dough ball. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm spot to rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in bulk.

Set a rack in the middle of the oven and heat it to 375 degrees. Grease two 8.5-inch-by-4.5-inch loaf pans generously with the softened butter. Using two forks, deflate the dough by releasing it from the sides of the bowl and pulling it toward the center. Rotate the bowl quarter-turns as you deflate, turning the mass into a rough ball.

Assemble the bread: Sprinkle some of the additional flour onto a clean surface. Using your two forks and working from the center out, separate the dough into two equal pieces. Use the forks to lift one portion of dough onto the clean surface. Using as much flour as necessary from the surface, dust your hands and the exterior of the dough, and shape the mass as best you can into a ball. Repeat with the other half. Let the dough balls rest for 20 minutes without touching.

Dust another clean surface with the rest of the 1/4 cup flour. Transfer one round to the prepared surface and gently stretch the dough into roughly a 10-inch-by-15-inch rectangle. In a small bowl, mix the sugar with the cinnamon. Brush the dough with the egg wash. Sprinkle the dough with half of the cinnamon-sugar mix. Beginning with one short end, roll it tightly into a coil and place it in a greased loaf pan. Repeat with the remaining round in the second pan. Do not cover the pans. Let the coils rise on the countertop near the oven (or another warm, draft-free spot) for about 10 minutes, or until the top of the dough just crowns the rims of the pans.

Transfer the pans to the oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and firm to the touch. Remove the loaves from the oven, turn them out onto a cooling rack, and let them cool on their sides for 20 minutes before cutting them. Makes two loaves.

— From “Bread Toast Crumbs: Recipes for No-Knead Loaves & Meals to Savor Every Slice” by Alexandra Stafford (Clarkson Potter, $30)

Quinoa and Flax Bread

If adding uncooked quinoa to bread dough sounds like a mistake (or a recipe for unpleasantly crunchy bread), consider what quinoa is: a seed, and one that behaves like a grain when cooked but that, on its own — like flax, sesame and poppy — adds flavor, texture and visual appeal to baked goods. Here, red quinoa looks especially striking, though any variety will do. You can substitute millet for the quinoa and any other seed for the flax. Use this bread for chicken salad sandwiches, open-faced sandwiches or simply slathered with butter for morning toast.

— Alexandra Stafford

4 cups (512 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons sugar

2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast

1/2 cup (100 grams) red quinoa, rinsed

1/4 cup (46 grams) flaxseeds

2 cups lukewarm water

1/4 cup neutral oil

Softened unsalted butter, for greasing

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar and instant yeast. Add quinoa and flaxseeds and toss to coat. Add the water, followed by the oil. Using a rubber spatula, mix until the liquid is absorbed and the ingredients form a sticky dough ball. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm spot to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the dough has doubled in bulk.

Set a rack in the middle of the oven and heat it to 425 degrees. Grease two 1-quart oven-safe bowls with the softened butter — be generous. Using two forks, deflate the dough by releasing it from the sides of the bowl and pulling it toward the center. Rotate the bowl quarter turns as you deflate, turning the mass into a rough ball.

Using your two forks and working from the center out, separate the dough into two equal pieces. Use the forks to lift each half of dough into a prepared bowl. If the dough is too wet to transfer with forks, lightly grease your hands with butter or oil, then transfer each half to a bowl. Do not cover the bowls. Let the dough rise on the countertop near the oven (or another warm, draft-free spot) for 10 to 20 minutes, until the top of the dough just crowns the rims of the bowls.

Transfer the bowls to the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake for 17 to 20 minutes more, until golden all around. Remove the bowls from the oven and turn the loaves out onto cooling racks. If the loaves look pale, return them to their bowls and bake for 5 minutes longer. Let the loaves cool for 15 minutes before cutting. Makes two loaves.

— From “Bread Toast Crumbs: Recipes for No-Knead Loaves & Meals to Savor Every Slice” by Alexandra Stafford (Clarkson Potter, $30)



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