A short while back, Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread made the rounds on the interwebs. It’s still super popular, as more people discover the recipe all the time. It’s a miracle of bread- and dough-making technique, perfect for all the people out there who feel that a good loaf of homemade, crackly-crusted bread is beyond them. The ingredients are mixed by hand into a rough dough which sits at room temperature for several hours, and then gets baked in a cast iron dutch oven. When I first made it, I was shocked that a loaf of bread so good was able to come from my crappy electric oven.
The recipe that I started with was actually sort of a variation on the classic No-Knead dough recipe, which I found on another blog. It’s essentially the same as Lahey’s version, but even lazier, if you can imagine! This version skips the second rising time, and the bread that results is still airy, chewy and with a fantastic crust I previously thought only possible from a good bakery. The first time I made this bread, I added chopped green chiles and a hefty amount of sharp cheddar cheese. It was quite fantastic, and I hope to make it again sometime soon. This time was the third time I made this awesome bread, and I had a jar of pesto languishing in my pantry and figured that this bread would be the perfect vehicle for it.
Years ago, I worked in a bakery/restaurant that used to make pesto bread. They stopped carrying it shortly before I worked there, and I was always sad cause it was the most awesome thing for a turkey sandwich. Now, I can make a version at home! This was purely experimental, and I think next time I would up the amount of flour, or cut back on some of the water in the recipe, as the dough was very wet (usually it’s quite soft, but this was bordering on ridiculous). Either way, it was very tasty and still gave me the same results as before, except that this bread was a little on the flat side because it was so wet. Try it for yourself and make tweaks as you feel they’re needed!
lazy pesto bread
(loosely adapted from Jim Lahey and the NY Times)
3 1/4 cups (389 g) all-purpose flour (I’d recommend going up to 3 1/2 cups, or 418 g)
1 1/2 tsp (11 g) kosher salt
1/2 tsp (1 g) black pepper
1/2 tsp (2 g) yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water (just above body temperature)
5 Tbs (105 g) jarred pesto
In a large bowl, mix your flour, salt and pepper. Stir with a wooden spoon until everything is well incorporated. In a liquid measuring cup, measure out your water, and stir in the yeast with a fork. It will take a few minutes, but the yeast will dissolve. Stir in the pesto and pour this whole mixture into the flour bowl. With the wooden spoon, stir the dough until it comes together. It’ll be pretty soft, but don’t let that alarm you! Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and leave on the counter at room temperature where it will not get disturbed, for 12-24 hours. I think that 12-18 hours is optimal, but I’ve let mine sit for 24 hours if I’m otherwise occupied and can’t get to it in time.
Once the rising time has passed, turn your oven to 450 degrees and put into it an ungreased cast iron dutch oven, with the lid on, while the oven heats up. With lots of flour on your hands, and a well-floured surface to work on, turn out the damp dough and roughly gather it together. I like to be sure to use plenty of flour on the surface because I like that rustic quality it lends the bread. The dough ball will be pretty difficult to handle from here on out. Once the oven is fully heated, carefully pull out the dutch oven and remove the lid. Carefully pick up your dough ball and plop it right into the center of the hot pot. Put the lid back on, and place in the oven to bake for 30 minutes. Once 30 minutes is up, remove the lid from the pot and bake the bread for 15-20 minutes more, depending on how dark brown you want the crust to be. I usually go only 15 minutes, but it depends on your oven!
Once the bread has baked, you can test it for doneness by inserting a digital kitchen thermometer into the center of the bread loaf. For a lean dough such as this (one that does not contain butter, milk or eggs), the temperature should read around 200 degrees when it’s fully baked in the center. With oven mitts on, carefully pick up the hot loaf of bread and let it cool for 10-15 minutes on a cutting board or cooling rack before slicing. I never follow this advice, and always hack off a crunchy, chewy hunk of bread while it’s still piping hot. The interior texture will be slightly different when it’s so hot, but it tastes so good. There are a number of variations you can make with this dough. Try adding dried fruits and nuts and maybe some citrus zest while mixing the dough, or some cheese and herbs. If you make a cheesy version of this bread, be sure to sprinkle on some cheese to the top of the dough once it’s in the pot, before it bakes. It makes the most tasty, cheesy crust on the top!
Because this dough is relatively hands-off, taking just a few kitchen staples and a couple minutes to whip up, it’s perfect for weeknight dinners. Throw the dough together when you get home from work some evening, and then plan a meal around it for the following night. Bake the bread while other dishes are cooking, and you’ll have probably the best damn bread that’s ever come from your own kitchen to accompany your dinner.
Though this bread is best when eaten after it’s freshly baked, it can also be stored in a freezer bag and frozen until you’re ready to use it next. Just wrap the frozen bread in foil when you want to reheat it, and pop it into a 350 degree oven for 10 or 15 minutes, until the center is hot. You can remove the foil for the last few minutes if you want the crust realllly crispy!