A few years ago a recipe appeared in the New York Times for a bread that required no kneading, shaping, or really any of the other time-consuming steps usually associated with bread baking. The claim was that we mortals could create a professional-looking loaf, (crusty with great flavor), without either formal training in bread baking or a brick oven large enough in which to fit a small child. Simply by mixing together bread flour, water, salt, and a little yeast and leaving the resulting glop to ferment for 14 to 20 hours, we were promised a European-style loaf worth bragging about. And for the most part, the recipe delivered.
There were, however, a couple of pitfalls associated with the process. First off, you had to plan ahead. Way ahead. Would I be home in 14 to 20 hours long enough to bake the bread? And if the house was cold (as it tended to be in the middle of a New England winter) would the dough rise and ferment enough to produce a real loaf and not something more akin to a mildly leavened brick? Furthermore, some of us in the house at the time were trying to steer away from a diet heavy in white flour, and the experiments conducted with whole wheat flour resulted in a dense, flat loaf that was about as appealing as hot buttered cardboard. Maybe slightly more. I said maybe.
After a spell of experimentation that lasted several months, the constant stream of bread baking petered out, and we went back to spending ungodly amounts of cash for a loaf at the grocery store. Which was really a shame. Because not only is buying bread expensive if you want something worth eating, but buying it from someone else robs you of the pleasure of making it yourself, a pleasure that can be great if things turn out well. And the truth was making this bread required about five minutes of paying attention, followed by a couple of days of gloating to your friends about how good your homemade bread was.
But recently the cold weather and mid-winter malaise had me back in the kitchen, haphazardly throwing this and that into a bowl and setting it on the top shelf of the closet (which is, sadly for me as it is very high up and too small to sleep on, the warmest spot in the house). There had to be a way to make this bread both easily and healthfully. And wouldn't you know, this new version, full of whole grains and seeds and left to do its thing for a full 24 hours, turned out beautifully. And it has again and again.
No-knead, full-seed bread
In a large mixing bowl combine:
1/4 teaspoon yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup uncooked millet
1/2 cup wheat bran
3 1/2 cups bread flour
Add enough water (about 1 1/2 - 2 cups) to make into a tacky dough--you should be able to form it
into a rough mound, so you don't want so much water that it becomes a batter. Cover the bowl with plastic
wrap or put inside a plastic grocery bag and leave it to rise 18-24 hours, the longer the better.
After it's risen (it won't look like it rose all that much, but you'll see some bubbles/air pockets on the top),
shape into a football-shaped loaf, and let rise again for a couple of hours. About half an hour before you back
it, put a dutch oven with a lid in the stove, with the lid on, and let it heat up. Take the pot out, sprinkle
some cornmeal or flour on the bottom, and plop the loaf in the hot pot. Sprinkle more meal/flour on the
loaf and make three diagonal slash marks with a sharp knife on top of the dough. Put the lid on the pot and bake for about 40 minutes. Take the lid off and continue baking until it's a deep golden brown. Cool on a rack.