It’s possible that there has never been a recipe as wholeheartedly embraced, and universally loved, as Jim Lahey’s recipe for no-knead bread that appeared in the New York Times half a decade ago. There’s good reason, too. Being able to make a delicious, totally foolproof artisan bread in the comfort of your own kitchen is a seemingly miraculous achievement. And just when you thought that Lahey’s recipe, perfect as it is, could never, ever be improved upon, here comes this great tutorial from Savory Sweet Life (our sites have very similar names, but that occurrence is nothing more than a weird coincidence) about how to make Lahey’s bread an even more foolproof affair. By removing the least pleasant aspects of Lahey’s recipe (the very messy resting period atop a floured cloth, the even messier transfer of the rested dough into a wicked hot Dutch oven), Alice from SSL somehow managed to improve upon what I’ve always considered to be a nearly flawless recipe.
That said, a perfect recipe is still open to fiddling, and in my own kitchen I’ve recently taken to making Lahey’s bread, via Savory Sweet Life, with a bit of my own twist. On a whim, I one day decided to fold some very lightly spiced apples into the bread dough, thinking that if I was lucky, the apples would settle nicely throughout the bread and bake up perfectly tart and sweet; if I was unlucky, the apples would sink to the bottom of the dough and form a terrible, congealed mass of wet, doughy disaster.
Success prevailed! And I’ve now baked this bread enough times to declare it my favorite morning bread. It’s perfect as toast, with a slice of sharp cheese, or smeared with almond butter. Because Alice’s method of making the bread eliminates both the second rise and the step of heating up a cooking vessel in a preheated oven, you can wake up early, chop up an apple, fold it into the bread, then plop the bread straight into the oven. An hour later, after you’ve showered, had a cup of coffee, read roughly two dozen books to your child, and managed to prepare yourself for making some breakfast, your bread is done.
Having a small child, our Christmas morning is guaranteed to begin well before the sun rises. My plan this year is to mix up a batch of no-knead bread dough (which takes all of three minutes, if that) on Christmas Eve, leave it to rest overnight, and then fold in some apples on Christmas morning while I am preparing some coffee. The bread will go in the oven, my son will pace around the Christmas tree, eventually tackling the presents underneath like a ferocious lion attacking a gazelle, and then, when the mayhem subsides, the bread will be ready. Just in time for a family breakfast, we’ll have fresh bread. Crisp on the outside, piping hot in the middle, the apples strewn artfully about the loaf, it’s a great complement to any meal, on any day.
No-Knead Apple Bread
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon instant, rapid-rise yeast
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
1 5/8 cup of warm water (this essentially equals 1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons of water)
1 apple, cored, peeled and diced into ¼-inch chunks
¼ teaspoon dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
extra flour, for dusting
Note: You will NOT be preheating the oven while you prepare the bread dough.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, and salt. Don’t let the salt come into direct contact with the yeast, as it might kill it. Add the warm water, and stir everything together. The dough will appear quite wet and shaggy. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature overnight for at least 12 hours, preferably closer to 18 hours.
The next morning, cut a small round of parchment paper and fit it inside the bottom of a large heavy pot or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid (I use an enameled cast iron pot, which works perfectly).
When you have diced up the apple, sprinkle the dark brown sugar and cinnamon on top of it. Don’t even bother putting them in a bowl to do this—just sprinkle everything on top of the pile of apple chunks and mix it together with your hands.
With the dough still in the bowl, place the spiced apple chunks in the middle of the dough. Sprinkle a good amount of flour around the perimeter of the dough, then, using a flexible spatula or silicone spoon, fold the edges of the dough over the apples in the middle of the dough, turning the bowl to follow your fold. If the dough absolutely won’t let go of the side of the bowl, sprinkle a bit or flour over the stubborn spots.
Carefully turn the dough out into the heavy pot. It will not look terribly attractive at this point, and it might have gotten a bit ripped in the process, but that’s fine.
Place the lid on the pot, and place the pot in the cold oven. Turn the oven on to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, and set a timer for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes have passed, carefully remove the lid from the scorching hot pot, and continue to bake the bread, uncovered, for an additional 30 minutes. When the bread is done, it will be deeply browned on the outside, with a visibly crackly crust.
Allow bread to cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting into it. The apples are super hot when the bread first emerges from the oven, and they need time to calm down so you don’t burn yourself when you bite into them.
Makes 1 loaf.