If bread is the staff of life, then this cook has been wobbling on shaky legs for much of her culinary career. What is it about baking bread that's so daunting? I suppose I've rationalized my bread-baking evasion by telling myself it takes too long and my spaghetti-noodle arms can't knead well enough. But I recognize those are silly excuses, so this week I set about tackling the easiest bread recipe I could find.
About five years ago, New York Times journalist Mark Bittman introduced the baking-phobic world to Jim Lahey's no-knead bread recipe and — in typical Bittman fashion — wowed us again by reducing the 24-hour process to a mere five hours. One of us valiantly (and very successfully, I might add) took a stab at the original, but for those of us who can't plan further ahead than tonight's dinner, this may be the closest we'll come to a lovingly leavened, rustic loaf.
Bittman's recipe calls for a wet dough with plenty of yeast and leverages that high water content to steam the dough in a heavy lidded pot before browning the loaf. This process results in that crisp, crackly crust and fluffy, chewy interior that you crave in a rustic loaf, and all this without a single kneading stroke. Someday I'll pursue the weight training that will get my arms in bread-kneading shape. But until then, I thank Mr. Bittman for fostering my lazy side. For the recipe, keep reading.