What makes bread rise, you ask? Yeast farts. Yeast farts and love, my friends, yeast farts and love. That magical fermentation reaction is what sets the texture of yeast breads far apart from that of quick breads and cakes. Yeast breads, however, are often feared by the casual baker. Multi-page recipes, full of kneads, proofs, second kneads, second proofs (proves?), etc., can certainly be daunting to any non-Julia Childs (Children?) among us.
Don’t get me wrong here, I love me a good bread knead, but — to quote one of my friends from college — AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT! Few things are as cathartic as really going at a lump of yeast, flour, and water, to lovingly develop the glorious gluten strands that sadly cause Celiac patients extreme discomfort (an unfortunate side effect of an otherwise innocuous compound). However, on a busy weeknight or in a kitchenette with minimal counterspace, a solid no-knead bread recipe is a godsend!
This loaf in particular, loosely based on the flavor profile of the Black Russian bagel at my favorite local bagel haunt, is super easy, and the only thing you really need to make it well is…time!
The secret to the strongly subtle — a tad oxymoronic, I know — flavor and chewy yet airy texture, is allowing the dough 24 hours to ferment and rise to unimaginable heights of excellence. You need not babysit the dough during this period, or even think about it all; in fact, the less you think about it, the better. After all, a watch-dough never rises!
To try to capture the flavor of that Black Russian bagel I mentioned, I brushed the top of the loaf with a beaten egg yolk and sprinkled it generously with sesame seeds and coarse sea salt — an absolutely killer textural and flavorful combination, like crunchy peanut butter and grape jelly, or Sonny and Cher. But let’s not focus only on the top end, the bottom is just as important (words never spoken by a dentist)! A crisp bottom is essential, and I have a tip for accentuating this nice crust. Most yeast bread and pizza recipes have you “dust the baking stone with semolina flour” (or cornmeal, or something like that), but I used Coco Wheats with this loaf to complement the pumpernickel undertones, and I was quite pleased with the results! Also, I was fresh out of cornmeal.
I used a big cast iron skillet covered in foil to bake the bread, but if you have one of those fancy and shockingly heavy enamel dutch ovens with tightly-fitting lid (a dream of mine), that works best. A tightly-fitting lid helps to lock in the steam during the first half of the baking time to develop the thick, crispy top-crust that makes this bread taste waaaaaaaaay more labor-intensive than it actually is (it’ll be our little secret). Preheating the oven and your baking apparatus of choice simultaneously is essential to getting a super crisp bottom crust. Plopping the risen dough directly in a SCREAMING hot skillet or dutch oven results in a bakery-status crust, but BE WARNED, a cast-iron skillet sitting in a 450 degree oven is, well, 450 degrees of hot metal…make sure the pot holder is covering ALL of your hand…
This hearty loaf is the perfect complement to a big, steaming bowl of homemade pea soup, since it has thirsty, shaggy, broth-soppable nooks and crannies for days!
Subtly Pumpernickel No-Knead Bread
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rye flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour, plus a bit more for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 package dry active yeast
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 3/4 cups warm water (just tepid, nothing crazy here)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Coco Wheats (or semolina, cornmeal, or grits)
1 egg yolk + 1/2 teaspoon water
Coarse sea salt
In a medium-sized mixing bowl — no stand mixer needed, kids — combine flours, salt, and onion powder with a rubber spatula, and make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add the molasses, sugar, yeast, and 1 cup of the water to the well and mix gently (just the well portion…don’t incorporate the flour just yet). Let stand 5 minutes — the yeast will get foamy and puffy as it dissolves in the water (if you don’t see any change over the course of the 5 minutes, your water was probably too hot and you killed your yeast, you yeasticidal maniac…yes, it’s alive and needs to stay so…that yeasty flatulence is critical). Use rubber spatula to fold the flour into the yeast , until well-incorporated and smooth, about 1 minute. That’s as close as you’ll get to kneading in this entire recipe!
Coat a large, clean metal or glass mixing bowl with oil, and transfer dough to this bowl. Turn dough blob once in bowl to coat the outside in oil, and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap — coating the dough in oil keeps it from sticking to the bowl/plastic wrap as it rises to the top of the bowl. Let sit on a warm counter, undisturbed, for 24 hours.
Dust a large, clean, cotton dish towel with whole wheat flour. Plop risen dough onto floured cloth, and sprinkle the top with a bit more whole wheat flour. Gently fold the dough over on itself 3 times, pressing down firmly with each fold to seal — this step traps some larger air bubbles for good bread architecture. Gently roll the loaf in the towel so that is situated seam-side down and cover with the other half of the towel. Let rest 2 hours.
Place a large cast iron skillet or dutch oven inside oven and preheat to 450 degrees farenheit. Once oven has preheated, CAREFULLY remove your hot baking vessel from the oven, pour in the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and swirl to coat entire bottom and approximately 1-2″ up the sides. Sprinkle bottom of pan with the Coco Wheats, and plop in the dough, seam-side UP (transfer dough inside dish towel). Lightly jostle pan to settle loaf — KEEPING IN MIND THAT PAN IS HOT. Gently brush the top with egg yolk that has been lightly beaten with ~1/2 teaspoon water. Sprinkle generously with salt and sesame seeds. Cover pan (either with lid or aluminum foil), and bake for 30 minutes. Remove cover, and bake for 25-30 minutes longer. Remove from oven and let sit in pan for 10 minutes, before transferring to a wire rack to cool 20 minutes prior to cutting.
Bread may be stored at room temperature, in a tightly sealed container, for up to 2 days. Crust will gradually soften with time, and, since this bread is free from any preservatives found in commercial breads, it really is best on the first day!