Excerpts from her blog, All You Can Eat By now, I'm sure you've heard about "No-Knead Bread" — the "No way! You're kidding me! " easiest-recipe-ever for making...

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Excerpts from her blog, All You Can Eat

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about “No-Knead Bread” — the “No way! You’re kidding me!” easiest-recipe-ever for making an incredible (and incredibly cheap) loaf of crusty, European-style bread at home.

You haven’t heard about it? Well, where have you been — out spending $5 a loaf at artisan bakeshops? Allow me to turn you into a bread-making machine, because if my bread can look like this: So can yours!

After “The Minimalist” Mark Bittman did his easy-bake (in the) oven show-and-tell in the New York Times in November 2006, bread bakers everywhere — myself included — got in on the act, turning out homebaked loaves so good we were smacking ourselves upside our heads and asking, “And I’ve been making all those other, far less interesting and nowhere-as-delicious loaves for years because … ?” What’s more, wannabe bread bakers everywhere were moved to try this recipe. When they did, they, too, smacked themselves in the head and asked, “And I’ve been afraid to bake yeast breads in the past because … ?”

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And now I’m going to insist that you do yourselves a favor and make bread. The first time I made Bittman’s recipe, developed by Jim Lahey of NYC’s Sullivan Street Bakery, it looked absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately, my husband, Mr. Toast, complained about what he perceived as its lack of flavor (to be honest, I thought it needed more salt). Turns out those test-kitchen maniacs at Cook’s Illustrated agreed with him about the flavor, and went to great lengths, as they always do, to come up with a better loaf, adapting the NYC recipe in their Jan/Feb 2008 issue.

That’s the recipe I’ve been using ever since, which does, in fact, make a more flavorful loaf — thanks to Cook’s Illustrated food writer Kenji Alt, who suggests the addition of two ingredients: white vinegar and mild lager.

Take my advice on this one: double the recipe and make two loaves (I do the math for you, below). They’re big. They’re brown. And since there’s (almost) no kneading, it’s just as easy to prepare enough dough for two.

So, here’s my how-to, which is the Cook’s Illustrated recipe, doubled, making two loaves.

If you’re really budget-conscious, feel free to use sale-priced store-brand unbleached all-purpose flour, though I prefer the King Arthur flour (a 5-pound bag makes about four loaves). And be sure to use a lager. Budweiser in a can will do, though I found a Henry Weinhard’s Blonde Lager on sale and put it aside specifically for bread baking. You must buy instant-rise or “quick-rise” yeast, not the standard-rise.

First, whisk the dry ingredients: the flour (6 cups); the instant “quick-rise” yeast (1/2 teaspoon), and the table salt (1 tablespoon — they’re talking blue-canister-style salt, not the larger-grain kosher salt all you foodies keep on hand: it makes a difference).

Now it’s time to add the liquids. For my doubled recipe, you’ll need 1 ½ cups plus 4 tablespoons of water (that’s 14 ounces), 2 tablespoons of white vinegar and ¾ cup mild-flavored lager. Now mix the dry ingredients with the liquids. If you’re a compulsive recipe follower, use the spatula. My favorite wooden spoon is my tool of choice.

Mix the dough, scraping and folding, till it reaches a “shaggy” consistency.

OK, I’ll admit it: because I’ve always considered kneading bread a joyful exercise, not a chore, I usually work the dough a bit at the end, gathering the last bits of “shagginess” — and any bits of flour along the bowl’s perimeter — into a ball. But that’s just me.

Now cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temp for 8 to 18 hours. Bear in mind, this is a forgiving recipe: You can let it sit for even longer if you get too busy to deal with it. Personally, I’m all for the longer, overnight-and-then-some rise.

Expect to find bubbles after an overnight rest. This is what you’re hoping for, and the longer its sits, the bubblier it’ll get. My second loaf, which fermented the longest and was originally kneaded along with the first, got a very silky texture with next-to-no kneading.

All right, now comes the part where you form the loaf and let it rise for two hours before baking. You’ll need some “equipment,” including the all-important baking vessel that can take an oven temperature of 500 degrees. Use any large, heavy, covered pot if that’s all you’ve got on hand. I use my 5 ½ quart enameled cast-iron Le Creuset. (The one that costs a small fortune and is well worth it.)

There’s been a lot of talk about whether the black knob on the Le Creuset lids will melt at the initial high temperature the baking calls for, but after umpteen loaves, mine’s fine. The pot has, however, discolored a bit, so I went out and bought a plain black Lodge cast-iron Dutch oven at Fred Meyer (with a coupon, it set me back about $35). Because it’s not enameled though, it bakes a browner loaf.

Other stuff you’ll need for rising/baking purposes: nonstick cooking spray; a 10-inch skillet (I use a 12-incher, but the 10-inch does make a slightly more rounded loaf); parchment paper; and extra flour for sprinkling. Lay a 12 by 18-inch sheet of parchment inside the skillet and spray the parchment with nonstick oil.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead it 10-15 times, or longer if that’s what thrills you. Then, cut it in two (remember, we’re doing two loaves):

Put one loaf back into the bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and shape the other into a ball, then pull the edges into the middle. Transfer the dough, seam side down, to the parchment-lined skillet, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise for two hours:

Now, pay attention here, because it’s easy to forget this part: about a half-hour before you’re ready to bake, adjust your oven rack to its lowest position, put the empty lidded pot into the oven and turn it on to a scorching 500 degrees. Once the dough has risen the required amount of time, lightly flour the top of the loaf, grab your kitchen shears and cut a big inch-long “X” in the top.

Next, carefully take the very hot pot out of the oven, remove the lid and grabbing the ends of parchment, transfer the dough from pan to pot. It’s OK if the parchment hangs over the edge of the pot.

Turn the oven temperature down to 425 degrees, replace the lid, shove the whole thing back in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Then, carefully remove the lid and bake the bread for another half hour.

At some point get back to that second unbaked ball of dough. If you’ve got another 10- or 12-inch pan (a pie pan would work OK if you don’t), give it the two-hour rise as described above then bake it off. Or if you’ve got two big pots and a big oven, bake them both at the same time.

The crumb on this stuff is fantastic, and that’s part of what makes this recipe so great. Trouble is, you’re supposed to wait two hours while the bread cools, which is kind of hard to do.

Now throw an apron on and get baking! Then tell me how it went, OK?

This material has been edited for print publication.

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or nleson@seattletimes.com. To read her blog, go to www.seattletimes.com/allyoucaneat.

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