Great breads really only require four basic ingredients: flour,
water, yeast and salt. The rest is detail. Here’s a short guide to
the basic ingredients and equipment you’ll need to make artisan
Unbleached, white, all-purpose flour: Has adequate protein (around
10 percent) to create a satisfying “chew,” but low enough to
prevent heaviness. We prefer unbleached flours because bleaching
removes some protein, not to mention adding unnecessary
Whole wheat flour: Contains the germ and bran, both of which are
healthful and tasty. Together they add a slightly bitter, nutty
flavor that many people enjoy.
Bread flour: For chewier bread, substitute bread flour (about 12
percent protein) for all-purpose white flour by decreasing the
amount slightly (by about a quarter cup for every 6 cups of
Yeast: Use what’s readily available and buy in bulk rather than
packets, which are much more expensive.
Salt: Use noniodized coarse kosher or sea salt.
Baking stone: Use a high-quality, half-inch-thick stone. The
porous stone absorbs moisture from your dough, allowing a thin,
crackling, crisp crust to form — one of the keys to artisanal
Pizza peel: This long-handled board helps slide doughs onto a hot
stone. A cookie sheet or cutting board will work, but will be more
difficult to handle.
Broiler tray: A pan to hold water for steam during baking.
The Master Recipe
The artisan free-form loaf called the French boule is the basic
model for all the no-knead recipes. The round shape (boule in
French means “ball”) is the easiest to master. You’ll learn how wet
the dough needs to be (wet, but not so wet that the finished loaf
won’t retain its form) and how to shape a loaf without kneading.
And you’ll discover a truly revolutionary approach to baking: Take
some dough from the fridge, shape it, leave it to rest, then let it
bake while you’re preparing the rest of the meal.
Keep your dough wet — wetter doughs favor the development of
sourdough character during storage. You should become familiar with
the following recipe before going through any of the others.
Mixing and Storing the Dough
1. Heat the water to just a little warmer than body temperature
(about 100 degrees Fahrenheit).
2. Add yeast and salt to the water in a 5-quart bowl or,
preferably, in a resealable, lidded container (not airtight — use
container with gasket or lift a corner). Don’t worry about getting
it all to dissolve.
3. Mix in the flour by gently scooping it up, then leveling the top
of the measuring cup with a knife; don’t pat down. Mix with a
wooden spoon, a high-capacity food processor with dough attachment,
or a heavy-duty stand mixer with dough hook, until uniformly moist.
If hand-mixing becomes too difficult, use very wet hands to press
it together. Don’t knead! This step is done in a matter of minutes,
and yields a wet dough loose enough to conform to the
4. Cover loosely. Do not use screw-topped jars, which could explode
from trapped gases. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature
until it begins to collapse (or at least flatten on top),
approximately two hours, depending on temperature. Longer rising
times, up to about five hours, will not harm the result. You can
use a portion of the dough any time after this period. Refrigerated
wet dough is less sticky and easier to work with than
room-temperature dough. We recommend refrigerating the dough at
least three hours before shaping a loaf. And relax! You don’t need
to monitor doubling or tripling of volume as in traditional
On Baking Day
5. Prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to
prevent the loaf from sticking to it when you slide it into the
Sprinkle the surface of the dough with flour, then cut off a
1-pound (grapefruit-sized) piece with a serrated knife. Hold the
mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed
so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the
dough around to the bottom on four “sides,” rotating the ball a
quarter-turn as you go, until the bottom is a collection of four
bunched ends. Most of the dusting flour will fall off; it doesn’t
need to be incorporated. The bottom of the loaf will flatten out
during resting and baking.
6. Place the ball on the pizza peel. Let it rest uncovered for
about 40 minutes. Depending on the dough’s age, you may see little
rise during this period; more rising will occur during
7. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 450 degrees with a
baking stone on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray for
holding water on another shelf.
8. Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour, which will allow
the slashing, serrated knife to pass without sticking. Slash a
1⁄4-inch-deep cross, scallop or tick-tack-toe pattern into the top.
(This helps the bread expand during baking.)
9. With a forward jerking motion of the wrist, slide the loaf off
the pizza peel and onto the baking stone. Quickly but carefully
pour about a cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the
oven door to trap the steam. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until
the crust is browned and firm to the touch. With wet dough, there’s
little risk of drying out the interior, despite the dark crust.
When you remove the loaf from the oven, it will audibly crackle, or
“sing,” when initially exposed to room temperature air. Allow to
cool completely, preferably on a wire rack, for best flavor,
texture and slicing. The perfect crust may initially soften, but
will firm up again when cooled.
10. Refrigerate the remaining dough in your lidded (not airtight)
container and use it over the next two weeks: You’ll find that even
one day’s storage improves the flavor and texture of your bread.
This maturation continues over the two-week period. Cut off and
shape loaves as you need them. The dough can also be frozen in
1-pound portions in an airtight container and defrosted overnight
in the refrigerator prior to baking day.
The Master Recipe: Boule
(Artisan Free-Form Loaf)
Makes 4 1-pound loaves
3 cups lukewarm water
1 1⁄2 tbsp granulated yeast (1 1⁄2 packets)
1 1⁄2 tbsp coarse kosher or sea salt
6 1⁄2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour
Cornmeal for pizza peel