Here’s another great loaf for anyone apprehensive about kneading dough to a good consistency. As with The Grant Loaf, there is no kneading involved at all – but whereas the Grant Loaf is ready in under two hours, this loaf requires the best part of a whole day before its ready. The waiting time is the price you must pay – but it is so worth it. The recipe has been knocking around the internet for about 5 years, but it might still be new to some in the UK.
Jim Lahey devised this minimalist method of bread-making back in 2006 at the bakery he owns at 533 West 47th Street in Manhattan. With no special techniques, equipment or ingredients, Jim’s method achieves the crisp, crackling crust that bigger bakeries normally have to rely on giant steam ovens to achieve. So passionate is he for everyone to succeed with their bread-making, he published his recipe and released an online video.
The slightly unusual method used to bake the bread requires something both lidded and oven-proof. A cast-iron casserole is ideal, but since The Great Shelf Collapse of 2008 when all my cast iron cookware got smashed (yes, all of it *sobs*) – I’ve had to improvise, and can report that either Pyrex or ceramic is just as effective.
I’ve doubled Jim’s original recipe because I know from experience, once out of the oven, it goes really quickly and then you’ll be disappointed if you have to wait another day in order to eat more.
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising.
Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread
820g plain or bread flour, plus more for dusting
0.5 teaspoon rapid-action yeast
2.5 teaspoons salt
Semolina, polenta or cornmeal as needed.
- In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 700ml water, and stir until blended; the dough will be very wet and sticky.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it to rest for at least 12 hours, preferably 18, at room temperature. The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles.
- Sprinkle flour over a work surface and scrape the dough from the bowl onto it. Sprinkle with more flour and fold each side towards the middle. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest for about 15 minutes.
- Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently shape dough into a ball.
- Sprinkle a tea towel generously with flour or cornmeal or semolina. Carefully pick up the ball of dough and drop it onto the towel, with the gathered edges on the underside. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour.
- Cover with another cotton towel and leave to rise for about 2 hours. When ready, the dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
- At least a half-hour before the dough is ready, put a large heavy covered pot or casserole (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in the oven and turn the oven on to its maximum setting.
- When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from oven and remove the lid. Slide your hand under towel and turn the dough over into the pot (think of it as a ‘delivering a custard pie’ motion) so that the seam side ends up uppermost. Shake the pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.
- Cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is nicely browned. Tip out the loaf and cool on a rack.
Yield: One large loaf.
Cost: £0.58 (August 2011, using Strong Bread Flour)
If you’re going to bake your own bread, you could do worse than start with this one – it doesn’t require kneading, it only needs a very short, single rise, and you can have a batch of three loaves cooling on a rack in an hour and a half! The recipe has been around for almost 70 years – read on to find out more about it and its creator!
Heroines of Cooking: Doris Grant (1905-2003)
Tireless campaigner for healthy eating and the promotion of unadulterated foods, Doris Grant was a champion of fresh, natural ingredients and the minimal processing of food, and she maintained a running battle with major food companies in the UK for more than 60 years.
Almost crippled with arthritis in her youth, Doris found relief from her symptoms by following the food-combining diet of Dr. William Hay. With her health restored, Dr. Hay encouraged Doris to write her own book for the UK market, and thus began her publishing career. Alongside her many best-selling books, she is immortalised as the creator of The Grant Loaf.
Originally, The Grant Loaf was a mistake. While teaching herself to bake in the 1930s, it was several months before Doris realised she had not been kneading her bread dough. It didn’t seem to have made much of a difference to the loaves, and was a great deal easier and quicker than the traditional method, so she included her ‘mistake’ in her 1944 book Your Daily Bread. Here, with only a few adjustments, is that original recipe.
The dough ends up a lot wetter than traditional dough – so wet in fact, that kneading would be impossible if it weren’t already unnecessary. The bread itself is firm without being brick-like, and has a wonderfully nutty flavour as well as making great toast. I bake it in our house as our everyday bread, including sandwiches and packed lunches.
This recipe makes three loaves for two reasons:
1. It uses a whole bag of flour at once – no messy half-bags to clutter up your cupboards and spill over everything.
2. It makes sense, as well as efficient use of the oven, to cook more than one loaf at a time and the additional loaves can easily be frozen for use later.
The Grant Loaf
1.5 kg (1 bag) stone-ground wholemeal bread flour
2 sachets rapid-rise yeast
1 litre + 300ml warm water
25g muscovado sugar (or any brown sugar, or honey)
3 loaf tins (25cm x 10cm x 7.5cm)
- Put the flour into a large bowl and place in a gentle oven to warm. It doesn’t much matter if you don’t warm it, but it does speed up the rising.
- Put the sugar and salt into a large jug and add half the water. Stir to dissolve.
- Grease the bread tins using cooking spray or oil.
- Mix the yeast into the warmed flour and pour in the sugar/salt mixture, then add the rest of the water.
- Stir until the flour is fully mixed in. This is probably easiest to do using your hands, but using a utensil works well, also. Personally, I use a large two-pronged wooden fork from an otherwise unused set of salad servers, because the prongs move easily through the wet mix. I regularly manage to whip up a batch of this bread without touching the mix with my hands at all! Remember: you’re only mixing, not kneading – so as soon as all the flour is incorporated, stop. The dough will be much more moist than traditional bread dough – more like a fruit cake mix or thick, badly-made porridge.
- Spoon the dough into the bread tins, making sure it’s evenly divided – each tin should be approximately ¾ full. If you want to measure by weight, it’s approximately 950g per tin.
- Set the tins on a baking sheet somewhere warm to rise by about 1/3, until the dough is just above the top of the tins and nicely rounded. It should take no more than 30 minutes. If, like me, you’re lucky enough to have a double oven, then put the baking sheet onto the shelf in the top oven while the main oven heats up. NB Don’t put the tins onto the floor of the top oven – even if they’re on a baking sheet – it will get too hot. Otherwise, anywhere warm and draft-free will do.
- Preheat the oven to 200C, 180C Fan.
- Bake for 30 minutes, then turn the baking sheet 180° and bake for a further 20 minutes for a total of 50 minutes.
- Remove the tins from the oven and tip out the bread. Arrange the loaves on a wire rack.
- Put the loaves back into the oven for 5 minutes to crisp up the crust.
- Cool on the wire rack.
Variations: This method can also be used with brown bread flour, for a slightly lighter loaf.
Cost: £1.50 (July 2011) – 50p per loaf