Partially raised by my maternal grandmother, who baked her own bread every week, I am no stranger to the smell of yeast emanating from beneath a cotton floursack towel sheltering rising loaves of dough on the back of a stove. There is nothing that says comfort to me more than a slice of freshly baked bread, still warm from the oven, slathered simply with melting butter. I know I am not alone in this. Bread is elemental in a way few other things are. When I began to bake my own bread as an adult - a habit that has been admittedly sporadic - I gloried in the act of it. Kneading. Waiting. More kneading. More waiting. For a working girl, bread-making is the product of a lazy Saturday, something to be done when there is nothing pressing, no urgent errands beckoning, no social obligations to call one away from the kitchen. It is an opportunity to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and savor a book between kneadings, to make a pot of soup to masquerade as main course. Because of course, the real main course is the bread, which only needs the soup to reinforce its purpose: nourishment of the most fundamental part of one's humanity.
For a long while now, it has seemed that everywhere I turn - the Dining section of the New York Times, the latest cookbooks, popular food blogs - Jim Lahey's no-knead bread pops up. A bread that requires no kneading seemed nothing more than dubious to me, a cop-out, a departure from the art of bread-making which is so beautifully hands-on and so requiring of both patience and attention. Why bother?
But the reality of life with a six-month-old (and a reminding link on some blog post back to Mark Bittman's New York Times article) caused me to re-think my objections. My Saturdays don't afford much time for bread-making at this point. Feeding times or unexpected changes in my darling but unpredictable little girl's schedule could mean over-raised dough or even burnt bread, and the need to start over.
So I finally decided to try the no-knead method. I mixed flour, salt, yeast, and water in a bowl, covered it tightly with plastic wrap, and walked away. For about 18 hours, maybe a little more. The next morning, I simply gave it a couple of folds, shaped it into a ball, covered it with a towel, and left it for yet another two hours. I preheated a pot in the oven, placed the dough in the scalding pot, and put it back in the oven for half an hour. And this - this - is what that simple process birthed, this gorgeous thing: