Bread is the cornerstone of any good farmhouse kitchen. It’s such a simple thing, made with the most basic of ingredients, but is pivotal to so many of our most memorable family meals. Like rice, corn, potatoes, and other starchy staples, it is the foundation of a healthy, satisfying diet.
I started dabbling in bread baking in my late teens. By the time I was in my early twenties, I’d discovered the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book and was obsessed with the delicious, whole grain recipes it contained. I’d make huge double loaves of the oatmeal sandwich bread, which my boyfriend (now husband) and I would stuff with our favourite fillings to make epic monster-sized sandwiches. Unfortunately, once the kids came along, I didn’t have the time to make it as often as I would have liked.
Flash forward a decade or so, and Jim Lahey’s no-knead method came along and completely revolutionized my bread-making game. No-knead bread is quick (aside from the 12 – 18 hour rise), fool-proof, and tastes like something you’d buy at a bakery. Since adopting it as our go-to recipe, it’s only on rare occasions that we ever buy bread. The dough comes together in about 5 minutes, and I always make a double loaf, so it lasts us for about a week.
I’ve tinkered with the method a bit, and have come up with a few variations over the years, but my no-knead oatmeal version (loosely based on Laurel’s) quickly became a favourite. It takes a bit more forethought because the oatmeal is cooked ahead of time, but the result is amazing. It’s soft and squishy, with a tender crust – if Wonderbread had a hearty, wholesome, flavourful cousin, this would be it.
The Laurel’s Kitchen recipe called for honey and oil, but I’ve discovered it doesn’t contribute a lot in the way of flavour or texture, so I’ve eliminated it. If you like the idea of having it in there and want to try it with those additions, just stir 3 tablespoons of honey, and 1/4 cup of oil into the cooked oatmeal, and reduce the amount of water you mix with the yeast down to 1 cup.
The beauty of no-knead bread is the simplicity of it. The initial rise is a long one, so you have to plan ahead, but there’s no fussing with oiling of bowls and pans, or finicky temperature control (it rises at room temperature), the dough pretty much takes care of itself. I usually start it in the late evening and bake it off at some point the next day; if your house is coolish, the dough is pretty forgiving and holds well. The long, slow rise is what helps develop the gluten, as well as that yummy, artisanal flavour.
The dough can be sticky, but if you work quickly and use lots of flour, it’s not a problem; just make sure you’ve got enough flour down to keep the dough from sticking to the towel (you want an extra-large tea towel for this – I find those with a waffle texture result in less sticking). The flour works just as well as oil at keeping the dough from drying out while it rises (I never would have believed it, but it does).
I like to sprinkle a handful of uncooked oats under the loaf before setting it to rise, since they add a nice, rustic touch to the finished bread (the bottom of the dough becomes the top of the loaf).
You’ll need a large (6 – 7 quart) cast iron dutch oven or other round, oven proof vessel with a lid for baking (you might want to halve the recipe if your pot is small). No need to oil it, the dough won’t stick. Once the formed loaf has sat through its second rise, the dough gets flipped upside down into the pot before baking. The lid seals in the steam, creating an environment similar to that of an old wood fired oven.
No Knead Oatmeal Bread
A tender, whole grain bread that is perfect for sandwiches.
- 2 cups water
- 1 1/3 cups rolled oats
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 1/3 cups cool water
- 1/2 tsp yeast
- 750 grams flour (approximately 5 cups)
Bring two cups of water to a boil. Stir in oats and salt, and cook just until it starts to thicken. Remove from heat and allow to cool (it will kill the yeast if added when it's hot).
Once the oatmeal mixture has cooled to room temperature, add the remaining 1 1/3 cups of water to the bowl of a mixer, and sprinkle the 1/2 tsp yeast over the surface. While the yeast dissolves, measure out your flour.
Add flour and oatmeal mixture to the bowl of your mixer, and turn it to low. Once the flour is mostly stirred in, turn the mixer on to medium/high, and let it mix until dough forms a rough ball (a minute or so). Remove dough hook, and cover the bowl with a clean plate or plastic wrap and set aside for 12 to 18 hours (at room temperature).
When the dough looks like it has doubled (the surface will be flat and bubbly), lay out a large towel and flour it generously. Flour the surface of the dough (it will be sticky), and scrape it onto the floured towel. Deflate dough by folding edges up and towards the middle of the ball, moving in a circular motion around the ball. Pick up your dough, continue tucking the edges under, forming a smooth round shape. Add more flour to the surface of the towel, as well as a sprinkling of dry oats, and put your ball of dough down on it, seam down. Sprinkle the top of the ball with more flour, and flip the four corners of the towel over the dough so it's completely wrapped, but loosely. Let dough sit for an hour and forty minutes. When the timer goes, put your dutch oven (with lid) in the oven, and preheat to 425 degrees.
When the oven is hot, carefully remove the dutch oven and take off the lid. Unwrap your dough, slide a hand under it, and carefully flip it into the (ungreased!) dutch oven. The bottom seam of your dough will become the beautiful crack in the top of the loaf - no cutting necessary! If the dough isn't centered in your pot, just give it a shake until it is. Put the lid back on the dutch oven, and return to the oven.
Bake bread, covered, for 40 minutes. After 40 minutes, remove the lid, and bake for another 12 minutes. Remove pot from the oven, flip bread onto a cooling rack, and let cool. Listen to the loaf crackle and "sing" as it cools.
Try not to eat it all in one sitting!
I like a combination of sprouted spelt (sub any finely milled hard whole wheat) and unbleached flour. I tend to do a little more than half of the spelt (about 400 - 450 grams). You can bump it up to 100% whole wheat, and it will still be delicious. Play with it to see what you prefer.
Try not to gasp when you take it out of he oven. Seriously, it’s like magic. The only time I’ve had a loaf turn out less than perfect was when the dough started out too dry – but even then it was still pretty great.
To slice it, we cut the loaf in half, lay it cut side down on board, and then slice vertically down toward the board (this gives more uniform sizes than if you cut the entire thing in long lengthwise pieces). We have a large round Rubbermaid container that holds a whole loaf, but if we don’t think we’ll get through it in about 5 days, we just pop the other half in the freezer until we need it (half a loaf fits perfectly in a large freezer bag).
There’s nothing so satisfying, or delicious, as a slice of warm, homemade bread straight from the oven. It’s perfect alongside soups and stews, as the base for avocado toast, or, as the majority of ours gets eaten, slathered with mounds of crunchy peanut butter (not mentioning any names).
I hope you’ll give it a try.