Everyone loves a beautiful, bought-from-a-bakery-style loaf of bread that is soft and moist on the inside with a perfectly crunchy, golden crust. I used to think that you could get this only by buying it from a Parisian boulangerie in Montmatre (or your local, less picturesque bakery). I had tried to make my own a few times but the results just weren’t what I was looking for.
All that changed when I stumbled upon the now-famous no-knead artisan bread. The first time I tried it I could not believe how unbelievably delicious bread I could create with almost no effort, no special ingredients or fancy techniques.
The no-knead bread is based on the slow fermentation process that takes place in the dough as it is allowed to rest, giving the bread its great flavor and texture. As the name suggests, it also happily eliminates the kneading part of baking bread which is always stressing me out (am I doing it right? have I done it long enough?); all you have to do is be patient and let the ingredients do all the work for you.
Then I started experimenting with different variations and additions and wanted to share my best one with you. This version is based on this basic no-knead bread recipe that was published in the New York Times, and it truly could not be any easier. All you need is time, so plan ahead the best time to start making the dough. The walnuts and pecans give the bread a wonderful texture as they soften a bit in the oven, and the raisins add a satisfying hint of sweetness. The sesame seeds are a nice little addition that gives an extra level of flavor to the bottom of the bread, so good!!
The amount of water depends on the flour you are using, so adjust the amount accordingly – the goal is to put in enough water so that you can easily mix the dough, but not so much that you will not be able to handle it with your hands. You will quickly get the hang of it after your first try, and soon you will be creating loaves that would feel at home in any Parisian bakery.
Tip: Replace ½ cup of all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour, and you will get the tastiest crust you have ever eaten! The bread will be a bit denser but also more healthy.
3 cups all-purpose flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon raisins
¼ cup chopped walnuts
¼ cup chopped pecans
Sesame seeds (optional)
1. In a large bowl, mix together flour, yeast, salt, walnuts, pecans and raisins. Add 1 ½ cup plus 1-2 tablespoons warm water, and stir until well mixed. The dough should be sticky but not completely liquidy. Cover the bowl carefully with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for at least 12 hours, preferably 18, at room temperature in a warm place.
2. The dough is ready for the next step when the top is dotted with tiny bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place the dough on it. Using flour to prevent dough from sticking to your fingers, fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest 15 minutes. Meanwhile, wash the bowl and dry it. Place a cotton kitchen towel (not terry cloth!) in it so that it covers the inside of the bowl completely. Generously coat the cotton towel with flour.
3. Quickly shape dough into a ball shape using a little flour in your hands. Place the dough seam side down in the toweled bowl and sprinkle the top generously with sesame seeds. If you don’t want to use sesame seeds, sprinkle with flour. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for 2 hours.
4. 30 minutes before the dough is ready, place a (at least 6-quart) heavy cooking pot with a lid (cast iron or ceramic) in oven to warm up and heat the oven to 450° F. When dough has risen for two hours, remove the hot pot from oven. Gently slide your hand under the towel and using your other hand and the towel to guide it, turn dough over into the pot, seam side up. Don’t worry if it looks messy, this is normal. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes on the middle rack, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack for a moment and enjoy when still warm. Store covered in room temperature.