No-knead bread IS amazing. It's certainly the best loaf of bread I've ever made in my entire life. Up until now, there's always been the kind of crusty, chewy loaves full of airy bubbles that you get from a good bakery and then the denser, finer-crumbed loaves I made at home. No more.
The first time I made it I used Jim Lahey's original recipe made famous by the New York Times. It was good, but it wasn't very flavorful. Cook's Illustrated noticed the same thing and came up with their own recipe, which adds a bit more flavor, and I've used that recipe as a jumping off point ever since. One thing I've noticed is that every loaf seems to come out a little (or a lot) different. Some are lighter, some are darker, the crumb can be different, sometimes the shape changes. It never really seems to matter though, as they are always delicious.
Note: Some lid handles are not rated to 500 degrees. If yours is not, cover the handle tightly with aluminum foil or unscrew it from the pot and cover the hole with aluminum foil.
Update (3/29/11): I made a loaf over the weekend w/ 1 tablespoon of Penzey's lemon peel powder, 1/2 tablespoon of dried rosemary, lemon vinegar and Grolsch beer - the best loaf yet!
almost no-knead bread
(adapted from cook's illustrated)
+ 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
+ 1/4 teaspoon rapid-rise yeast
+ 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
+ 1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped roughly
+ 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped roughly
+ 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons room-temperature water
+ 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mild-flavored lager
+ 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
In a large bowl, whisk the flour, yeast, salt and herbs together. Add the water, beer and vinegar. Use a spatula to combine the mixture into a shaggy ball, making sure to get all of the flour mixed in thoroughly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for 8 to 18 hours (I usually leave mine overnight).
When ready, transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead it 10 to 15 times. Clean the bowl and line it with large piece of parchment; spray with nonstick cooking spray. Shape the dough into a ball by pulling the edges underneath and place the ball, seam-side down, in the parchment-lined bowl. Spray the top of the dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
About 30 minutes before you are ready to bake the loaf, move the oven rack to the lowest position. Place a 6-8 quart dutch oven (a Le Creuset works great), with lid, on the rack and preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Meanwhile, lightly flour the top of the dough and use a razor or very sharp knife to make a shallow (about a 1/2-inch deep) slash across the top. Carefully remove the very hot pot from the oven and remove the lid. Use the edges of the parchment paper to lift the dough from the bowl and drop it into the dutch oven. Recover the pot and place it back into the oven, lowering the temperature to 425 degrees. After the loaf has baked for 30 minutes, remove the lid and continue to cook until the loaf is a deep, rich brown (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should read about 210 degrees), about 20 to 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove the loaf from the pot and let it rest on a cooling rack until it comes to room temperature, about 2 hours (letting it fully rest is very important to achieve the right crumb).
makes 1 loaf