Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Need for No Knead

Bread. Our daily bread. Our weekly bread. Our vast consumption of it is slightly shocking. Sure, I've got three kids and all, but four loaves a week seems a bit much, doesn't it? And that is not even counting the occasional baguette or rustic loaf with dinner, or the pizzas, or the English Muffins we eat for breakfast. Each week, I send my kids off to school with a total of 15 whole sandwiches! And I wonder why, when I open my little tin blue and white bread box, there is nothing there but the end pieces.

Have you ever tried to make a sandwich for your kids by turning the ends to the center? I have. When they were little, they didn't seem to notice, but now they're totally on to me..."MOM! Why do you always give ME the end pieces," they complain bitterly. Sigh. "Desperate times," I say, "Desperate times!" Desperate times, indeed. When I'm faced with the choice of feeding my kids the crap that comes out of the school cafeteria, or the backlash from the sneaky end-piece sandwich, I'll take their whining....most of the time.

Did you know that most store-bought bread is really not bread at all? It's what Michael Pollan likes to call "imitation bread product," sort of like American Cheese. It looks like bread, it smells like bread, but the list of indiscernible ingredients reveals its true nature....a laboratory experiment. Most of the items people buy today in the grocery stores are not, in fact, food. They are laboratory created substances, formulated by huge food corporations to use up our nation's vast over abundance of CORN and SOY products. And bread is no exception!

Let's take a look at the list of ingredients from Sara Lee's Soft and Smooth Whole Grain White:

Enriched Bleached Flour [Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid], Water, Whole Grain [Whole Wheat Flour, Brown Rice Flour (Rice Flour, Rice Bran)], Wheat Gluten, Skim Milk, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Yeast, Butter (Cream, Salt), Contains 2% or Less of Each of the Following: Calcium Sulfate, Salt, Dough Conditioners (May Contain One or More of the Following: Mono- and Diglycerides, Ethoxylated Mono- and Diglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Calcium Peroxide, Datem, Ascorbic Acid, Azodicarbonamide, Enzymes), Guar Gum, Calcium Propionate (Preservative), Distilled Vinegar, Yeast Nutrients (Monocalcium Phosphate, Calcium Sulfate, Ammonium Sulfate and /or Calcium Carbonate), Corn Starch, Vitamin D3, Soy Lecithin, Soy Flour.

If you are wondering what all that stuff in your "bread" is, here is a brief explanation...Not surprisingly most of the ingredients are derived from corn and soy.

So now, what to do. We can pay upwards of $4 a loaf for natural bread with fewer ingredients that we can pronounce, or we can make our own. I go in fits and spurts with my bread baking, mostly because my life lacks a usual rhythm and has just enough irregularity in my schedule to make it less than practical. In my fantasy life, I wash on one day, clean on another, bake on yet another, market on another and sew and craft on the last. But that leaves no time for yoga, or reading, or working a paying job (or 2), or walking the dog, or shuttling 3 children to their 8 different afternoon activities, or blogging or Facebook [insert blushing cheeks here]. And so, in my life, and I'm sure it's the same for yours, I squeeze in as much as I can, when I can. And that is why I'm so very much in love with this recipe.

The bread is soft and supple, due to the eggs and butter (I think that's why I'm soft and supple too, by the way) and it's sweetened slightly with honey. The recipe makes three wonderful loaves, but they can be baked off on different days, for maximum freshness. Best of all, it holds together! Most of the homemade bread recipes I have tried cannot withstand a cold schmear of sticky, natural peanut butter. But for this bread it's no problem, and of course, the aroma of freshly baked bread can't be beat.

This whole wheat recipe is adapted from the same authors who wrote Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Their second book, appropriately called, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, is full of truly wonderful whole-wheat and gluten-free variations. Honestly, the hardest part of making this bread is mixing it together in the container. And I think you'll agree that another truly magnificent thing about this recipe is that there is no kneading...ever! Once that dough is mixed and risen, you merely chop off a cantaloupe-sized hunk, shape it into a log and plop it into your bread pan. Even I can find time to do that! The dough that's left over (each recipe makes about 3 loaves) can wait patiently in your fridge for up to one week. How awesome is that?

The last photo is the less-than-healthy sandwiches I sent with my children to school today--peanut butter and fluff. I know, I know....fluff is not food. But at least the bread IS.

Soft No-Knead Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

I mix and store the dough in the same container...a latch-lidded one gallon plastic storage container I found at Target. Make sure if you do it this way that you incorporate every last bit of flour into the dough. I use my hands to mix it together, which is messy, but effective. Do not latch the lid when storing the dough, or the gasses may cause it to explode off. Also, I never wash my container after I bake off the last loaf of bread. The dried bits that cling to the side get scraped into the new batch of dough, creating a tangier flavor, not unlike sourdough.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 55-60 minutes, plus rising time
Yield: 3 loaves


5 cups whole-wheat flour (I like so-called White Whole Wheat)
2 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast, or 2 packets
1 tablespoon sea salt
1/4 cup vital wheat gluten (available at health food stores and online)
2 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 cup honey
5 large eggs
2/3 cup melted butter or canola oil


1. In a large bowl of a stand mixer or food processor (14-cup capacity), or your 1 gallon storage container, mix together the flours, yeast, salt and wheat gluten. In another smaller bowl, whisk together the water, honey, eggs and preferred fat. Using the dough attachment, or your hands, mix the wet ingredients with the dry until thoroughly combined. It will be very sticky. Do not knead.

2. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 2 hours. After this, the dough is ready to be formed and placed in a loaf pan, but it is easier to do this if you refrigerate it first for a couple of hours. The flavor improves after 24 hours, so make it the evening before, if you have time.

3. On baking day, lightly grease a standard loaf pan (8 1/2 x 4 1/2). Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour and grab a large hunk in your hand, cutting it off at the bottom. It should be about the size of a cantaloupe. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Cover the rest of the dough loosely and return to the refrigerator.

4. Form the ball into a thick log shape and place it in the prepared loaf pan. It should be just over half full. Cover it loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest for 90 minutes in a warm place (40 minutes if the dough you are using is already room temperature).

5. Thirty minutes before you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the loaf in the center of the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes or until the loaf is golden brown. Remove the bread from the pan and allow it to cool completely on a rack before slicing.


Trish said...

Great recipe, great book and gut wrenching...literally..info on what is in our breads.

Teri Powers said...

I baked this bread over the weekend. I have never baked my own bread before and was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was. The kids had it for breakfast this morning and the discussion was about what else would taste good on it. Thanks for sharing!

Alison said...

Glad you liked it, Teri! Homemade bread is delicious, isn't it? And the way it makes the house smell....mmmmm!

All the best,