First, it's important to distinguish No-Knead Bread from No-Need Bread. The former is a very laid back way to make bread if you have no food processor, stand mixer, bread machine or time. The latter is what you keep eating out of the little basket with a napkin in it, even though your pants are a little tight, just because it tastes really good, and look! There's Ciabatta in there, too!
I have had this recipe forever, in many forms. It was sent to me via snail mail by an old friend, I found it again on line and bookmarked it, but I just kept losing it. Frankly, I don't mind making bread that has to be kneaded either by hand or machine, but when this recipe appeared in my life a third time last week on someone else's blog, I decided it was a cosmic sign.
It's really, really good bread that emerges looking beautiful and crusty and artisanal, and tasting far more flavorful and nuanced than your average white loaf. It has real, shatter-y crust, and lots of texture. I really think you could pass it off as something from a bakery (which is fitting, since that's where the recipe came from). Best of all, you really need nothing but a bowl, some plastic wrap, two towels and a big pot with a lid. (Well, and an oven). No hard labor, and easy clean-up.
Here's the recipe. Don't wait for two more people to tell you to make it.
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising
1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.