No-Knead Whole Grain Bread

Breakfast is by far my favorite meal of the day. It is what (used to) get me out of bed every morning. (Now I have a little human alarm clock that doesn't have a snooze button). Often as I fall asleep the night before, I think about what I'm going to make for breakfast the next morning, along with how I will prepare my coffee (pour-over? drip? French press?).

I mean, think about it. You got your eggs. Creamy, yolk-y, salt and pepper. You got fruit, and sometimes veggies. You got my favorite grain, oats, in the form of warm, comforting oatmeal or snappy, crunchy granola. And, you got bread, in all of its various forms. Muffins. Scones. Pancakes. Biscuits. Toast. How could anyone not love breakfast?

Maybe I should re-title this blog to be "Becky Baker." This is the third post in a row that is baked. Baking is, after all, my life aspiration. Sure, I still cook most days. But baking is what really gets me motivated.

If you've tried making yeast bread before (or have been too scared by the idea) this is the easiest bread to make. One would think that, with such an easy bread, taste would be sacrificed, or texture, or something. No, friends, this bread is full of flavor, chewy, good as it is or toasted, pairs well with sweet jam or savory cheese, and is beautiful to behold. You can make it into a sandwich. You can top it with eggs. A smear of butter? Sprinkling of sea salt? Lovely.

One caveat: you need a cast iron dutch oven to bake it in. I have not tried to bake this without one, so I can't say if you would get good results. The dutch oven is pre-heated in the oven, which helps the bread to have a crisp, chewy crust. The bread is baked with the lid on for most of it, and then the lid is removed for the last ten minutes.

Don't make the mistake of taking the bread out too early because the crust is golden. I did once, and was sorely disappointed when, after letting it cool, I sliced it open and found a gummy interior. Sad. The crust will get very dark, even bordering on burnt in a few places. This will create a rich, chewy crust and an interior that is full of flavor and not dry.

This variation is from Mary Jane's Farm magazine, and the original is by Mark Bittman, but the original original no knead bread is by Jim Lahey. Credit duly noted. The dough is left at room temperature for 12-18 hours. I have left it for as long as 24 hours with no ill effects. You can probably leave it to rest for as little as 8 hours, but the flavor may not be as developed.

A word about flour. I use half whole wheat bread flour and half all purpose flour. I have also done it with half regular whole wheat flour and half white bread flour, and I have done it with half whole wheat bread flour, 1/6 spelt flour, and 1/3 white flour. The author recommends all whole wheat pastry flour. So basically, the sky is the limit. You have to use mostly wheat flour, though, for the gluten to develop. Using too much spelt, or too much low- or no-gluten flour won't result in the type of bread we're looking for here.

No-Knead Whole Grain Bread
From Mary Jane's Farm Magazine
Makes 1 large loaf

6 cups flour (see note above)
1/2 cup oats
2 tablespoons flax seeds or flax meal
1/4 cup quinoa (rinsed, if you want -- I never have)
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast (I have always just used 1 teaspoon active dry yeast, and it has turned out fine)
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
cornmeal for the Dutch oven

1) About 12-18 hours before you plan to bake the bread, mix together the above ingredients in a large bowl (minus the cornmeal). Add 3 cups of water and stir until blended. If there are a lot of dry ingredients left, add 1/4 cup increments of water (not exceeding 4 cups total). The dough will not be very wet, but should be shaggy. Don't worry about getting every last speck of flour wet.

2) Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 12-18 hours. The dough will not double in size, so don't worry if it doesn't look that much different than before.

3) Place a covered Dutch oven in a cold oven, and heat to 500 degrees. While oven and  pot are heating, dump the dough onto a floured work surface. Sprinkle a little bit of flour on top of the dough, and fold over onto itself twice (as if you're folding a business letter). Don't deflate it, and don't overwork it. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest until the oven is ready.

4) When the oven is hot, carefully remove the Dutch oven. Remove the lid and sprinkle cornmeal on the bottom of the pot (it will smoke a little -- if you have a fan, turn it on). Scoop up the dough (I use a large spatula and a bench scraper) and plop it into the Dutch oven. Don't worry if it's not in a perfect boule shape; it will add to the rustic appearance. Place the lid on the Dutch oven and slide it back into the oven.

5) Bake for 35 minutes with the lid on, then remove the lid and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Don't be alarmed if the crust is already very dark when you remove the lid. If you take it out too early, the bread will be gummy (and then you'll be resigned to slicing it up and using it for toast to "finish" the baking). When the bread is finished baking, and the crust is very dark (bordering on burnt in some spots), remove from the Dutch oven and cool completely on a rack. Cooling the bread completely before slicing into it ensures the bread will not dry out inside.

A couple of additional notes...
- I usually bake two loaves (I'm blessed with two! Dutch ovens) and freeze one
- This bread freezes well, but I recommend slicing it in half and freezing half loaves. This way, you're not stuck with a whole loaf of bread that you can't consume within a few days
- If you eat it fresh, it will keep for about five days in an airtight container. I slice it up all at once, because I don't want to mess with a cutting board every morning. But, if you slice off a bit at a time, it will not dry out as quickly, and will keep for as long as a week.
- My two favorite ways to eat this bread are with butter, or with cheddar and eggs on top. My mother-in-law loves it with almond butter. Justin likes it with jam, or to dip in his soup. Anything goes!

Other breads you might like:
Black Skillet Bread
Cinnamon Raisin Bread
Hearty Country Bread