“Go,” Kris says, and I throw the two flours, the salt, and a little bit of yeast into the mixing bowl. Stir it around with my hand.
It takes 43 seconds.
I take the bowl to the sink and splash in a bunch of warm water. Stir it around again with the spoon until the flour gathers up into a wet mass and starts to clean the sides of the bowl. Splash in a little more water until it’s a sticky, wet mass, dampen my hand and squish the wet dough with my fingers a few times. Why? Because it’s fun.
I cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a clean towel. “Stop!” I yell.
She hits the button on her phone’s timer. It has taken 2 minutes and 23 seconds. And that is just about all it takes to make the bread here at the Pastry Ranch. It will take about four and a half more minutes to shape the bread and throw it into the oven, but those steps come later. Total production time is less than ten minutes, which for me equals about two Solitaire games on my computer, or two turns at Facebook Scrabble with my arch-nemeses (and good pals) Tom and Adam.
You’ve no doubt heard about no-knead breads, whose popularity started with the Sullivan Street bakery in New York City. But if you haven’t actually made it, you might not realize how insanely quick and easy this technique is, how perfect and bakery-quality it comes out, and how you honestly have no excuse to not make just about all of your bread this way. We’ve done it 100 times and are still thrilled with how this bread looks, feels and tastes. Every time.
THE PASTRY RANCH NO-KNEAD WHOLE WHEAT BREAD
TIP #1: The whole trick to this bread is timing. It needs 15 hours to rest and develop its flavors and fabulous crumb. That means you carve out a precious 2 minutes and 23 seconds to do the initial mix in the evening, say Friday or Saturday night anytime between 6 and 10 p.m. in order to have your bread ready to bake the next day. You can’t rush this or make this bread in two hours.
2 1/2 C white flour (bread or all-purpose)
1 1/2 C whole wheat flour
2 t salt
1/2 t instant yeast (which you don’t need to bloom; just sprinkle it right onto the flours)
Take the bowl to the sink, turn the water to warm and splash in about …
2 C warm water
You can ballpark this, it doesn’t have to be precise. Now mix the water into the flour with your spoon or scraper, going around and around the bowl as the flour gathers itself up into a mass. If flour flakes off and doesn’t become part of the mass, add more water a little (like 1/4 C) at a time. When it all comes together into a squishy blob, and cleans the traces of flour off the sides of the bowl, it’s ready. Now wet your hand and squish the mass together a few times, pinching it. Why? Because it’s fun. If you added too much water and it’s soup, with puddles in the bowl, toss in a little bit more white flour and stir it together again until it makes a mass and pulls in all of the water and flour. But always err on the side of being too wet. The first couple of times you may be shocked that such a wet blob will make good bread. But it will.
TIP #2: Bakers call this resulting dough ball “shaggy.” It’s not smooth at all, as a kneaded dough would be. It’s the consistency of cottage cheese. It’s wet to the touch, not dry like a smooth ball of kneaded dough would be. Don’t worry, it’s perfect. It will become dry and manageable after a long rest.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then throw a clean towel over it. Leave it on your kitchen counter for 15 hours. No cheating. Go somewhere and drink wine. Read a good book. Take a chill pill. If it’s 8 p.m. at night when you’ve completed this step, you may not look at the dough until 11 a.m. tomorrow. And it can go longer. 15 hours is the minimum, but I’ve gone as much as 19-20 hours before the next step. The dough should swell up, about three times its initial size, and be a brown, spongy, living thing.
Toss a small handful of white flour onto your counter or a big cutting board (I use the big cutting board; it’s easier to clean).
Scrape the wet dough out of the bowl onto the floured board with your curved bench scraper. Using your flat bench scraper, gather it up into a ball. I usually turn it over upon itself a couple of times and throw in a couple of kneads (also because it’s fun), although it doesn’t really need it. Just form it into something resembling a ball.
Now put your kitchen towel or linen couche into a bowl and sprinkle it liberally with flour to keep the dough from sticking to it. Drop the ball of dough into the bowl, sprinkle the top with more flour, and cover it with the cloth. Let it sit for an hour to 90 minutes.
For God’s sakes, wash the mixing bowl now, or the bits of dough left in it will turn to cement if allowed to dry. (Learned this the hard way; my pain is your gain.)
TIP #3: Don’t let this second rise go more than 90 minutes or it will become over-proofed and lose its ability to hold a shape.
40 minutes into the second rise, preheat your oven to 450 AND PUT YOUR DUTCH OVEN, WITH LID INTO THE OVEN TO PREHEAT, TOO. (I somehow feel the need to emphasize this by screaming in CAPS). Let them heat up for a good 20-30 minutes.
Slide off the lid, and remove your dough from the cloth (it might stick. It WILL stick. It doesn’t want to go into the hot oven any more than you do. Just gather it up as best you can. If you lose the ball shape, it doesn’t matter. It may flatten out in your hand and lose its shape, but that doesn’t matter either.)
Drop the dough into the Dutch Oven. Slash it a couple of times with a sharp paring knife. Cover it.
Bake 30 minutes. Then remove the lid and bake for another 15 minutes.
Turn the bread out onto a cooling rack. Try to not cut it for at least 10 minutes, but preferably not for 25-30. If you must cut it sooner, use a serrated bread knife and go gently, because the warm bread will squish easily. It will become much more sturdy and stable when it cools, and will keep for a good 3 days in a bread bag or ziplock bag. I freeze parts that we won’t get to for a few days and defrost them on the counter when we’re ready for more bread.
Damn, that’s good bread.
TIP #4: If you need any of the gear to make this bread, from mixing bowls to cooling rack and everything in between, go to our Stuff page and you can order it. Don’t want to buy an expensive Dutch Oven? I found a ceramic pot with a glass lid, formerly used as a crock pot insert, at Goodwill for $5, and it works great. Just make sure that what you use is oven-proof and able to handle 450 degrees for 45 minutes.