By Pat Teti —
Do you like the idea of homemade yeasted bread but think kneading is too much trouble? Maybe you are physically unable or simply don’t want to knead dough. Maybe you have a stand mixer or bread machine that’s not working. Whatever your reason, no-knead bread recipes give you an option by removing a major step in the process. If that helps motivate you, they’re a good idea!
Because I enjoy kneading, I dismissed no-knead recipes for years. However, I was curious about the popularity of this bread style so I tried Mark Bittman’s video recipe on a New York Times website. Just search for “Bittman no knead.”
The revelation for me was that this recipe calls for doing the baking in a preheated cast iron Dutch oven. If you want a gorgeous, rustic-looking, homemade white bread I recommend this recipe because the Dutch oven method creates an excellent crispy crust. Similar recipes are available by searching for “no knead Dutch oven.”
I prefer bread with some whole grains and I wanted to create a no-knead recipe with multi-day proofing to give the bread more flavour. Meanwhile, my oven wasn’t working, which inspired another variation—oven optional!
You can make this bread on top of a range, on a wood stove, or over a campfire. You will need a cast iron skillet around 9 inches in diameter with matching lid (or aluminum foil) and a mixing bowl of at least 6 quarts. There are lots of no-knead recipes online but this one is grainier than any others I’ve seen. If you’re in a hurry you’ll have to look elsewhere. This one takes a few days but in doing so, it develops an incredible flavour.
No-knead skillet bread. Oven optional.
Makes one or two loaves.
3 cups water
1 cup whole cracked grain, for example, bulk seven grain cereal or Red River cereal
1 cup whole grain flour
a pinch of any type of dry bread yeast. The amount you can easily pinch between two fingers is enough
1 tsp. salt
½ cup flax seed
½ cup pumpkin or sunflower seeds
½ teaspoon turmeric, 1 Tbsp. dried rosemary, or up to 1 Tbsp. chili power, optional
3 cups all-purpose flour or bread flour
1. Put everything except the white flour in the bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the white flour a cup at a time, continuing to mix. A good tool helps a lot. You can use a wooden spoon but my favourite tool for this is a heavy duty Mario Batali silicone spatula that I got at the Bay some years ago. Canadian Tire had something similar when I looked in early January.
If you’re able, mix in another ¼ cup or so of white flour. That will make it easier to handle later.
2. Cover and let sit for two to four days. I usually let it go for three days at room temperature in winter and two days in summer. Have a peek and sniff every day. It should have a lovely fermented aroma after three days.
3. Preheat a large cast iron skillet (approximately 9 inch bottom) on medium heat and sprinkle the bottom with cornmeal or flour.
4. The dough will probably be well-stuck to the bowl and the objective is to get in onto a floured surface without tearing it up too much. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. Tilt the bowl and start working the dough away with a spatula. You can toss some flour in there to keep it from re-sticking. Rotate the tilted bowl and continue working the spatula in to release the dough. Keep dusting the sticky parts and when you’re able, pour the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Dust it with flour where it’s sticky.
5. Cut the dough in two, dust the freshly cut surfaces, and slide one piece out of the way.
6. Make sure all of the outside of the dough is well-floured by dusting it and gently rolling it in flour. Roll it onto a thin plate and drop it into the preheated skillet. You can press it out a bit but not all the way to the sides of the skillet because that will make it harder to flip.
7. Cover and let “bake” for about 8 minutes.
8. Sprinkle the top with a little more cornmeal or flour and flip it with a metal spatula.
9. Cook on the second side for another 8 minutes.
10. Remove to cool on a rack, wrapped in cloth, or in a paper bag.
11. Repeat with the other half of dough.
The finished bread should be about ¾ inch thick. To serve, I sliced it through its thickness, toasted it, drizzled it with olive oil, and lightly salted it.
If you want to bake this bread in the oven, you can make one big loaf. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F while warming the skillet on medium heat. Then at step 4 above, don’t cut the dough in two. Just work with the whole dough and continue as described in step 5. Score the top with an “X” and bake for 35 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees F on an instant read thermometer. Cool it on a rack, wrapped in cloth, or in a paper bag.
If you like to experiment, you can try turning any yeasted bread recipe into no-knead skillet bread. Just use less yeast and less flour. Mix, but don’t knead it. Let it proof for a few days and then follow the above procedure—or your instincts!
Pat Teti was a research scientist with the BC government for 18 years and has always enjoyed making things.