“How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?” Julia Child

The regular baking of bread can, I’m afraid, bring out a certain irritating smugness in me, but that’s something I’ll have to learn to live with because I’m not going back to shop bought now. Once you’ve been making your own bread for a little while you will bring your own techniques to the process without even noticing and the bread will reward you with a character that is a reflection of yourself. It happens. My wife Mo and I started with basically the same recipe for our regular loaf, but the tastes are quite different.

We began when she discovered this excellent YouTube film by Mark Bittman from The New York Times visiting the Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13Ah9ES2yTU

Watching this film will give you a taste for just how easy great bread making can be. Mo and I have since departed from this recipe each in our own way, so now I’ll let you have my version. As well as the following ingredients you will need a cast iron casserole dish of the Le Creuset type. Ours is 20cm (8”) in diameter by 10cm (4”) deep, which suits this quantity quite nicely, but there is no reason why you shouldn’t use one larger than that. The crust and crumb should be the same. And once again with flour as your only main ingredient, it stands to reason that you should use the best you can find.

The simple ingredient that renders this ‘no-knead’ bread is time. Kneading is a method traditionally used to speed up the proving process, and given up to twenty-four hours to prove you will find this process completely unnecessary.


500 grams of unbleached strong bread flour.

2 tsp salt

¼ tsp dried yeast

350 ml lukewarm water

I like to plan things so that my bread will be ready for tomorrow’s lunch so I’ll run you through my timetable beginning at about late morning to early afternoon.

Dissolve the yeast in the water (you will already have noticed that this is a very small amount of yeast compared to the usual bread recipe. This is because the yeast, being a living organism, increases naturally throughout the long proving process). In the meantime weigh out the flour and mix in the salt. Make a well in the flour, pour in the water/yeast mixture and stir together with a spoon until all the flour is taken up. Incidentally, If you’d prefer wholemeal bread I’d suggest 200 grams of wholemeal or granary flour* to 300 grams of white flour. Cover with clingfilm (I use a shower cap) and place out of the way in a cool place for 18-24 hours. So far, so easy. Five minutes work and no mess.

*Granary flour is a registered trade mark of Hovis, but you can find similar products in supermarkets and farm shops sold as ‘malted seeded bread flour’.

First thing next morning flour a work surface (and your hands) and gently ease your dough out of the bowl. It should be quite wet. Stretch the dough to the size of a ciabatta loaf and fold one side two-thirds the way over and then take the other side across. Turn through 90º and repeat. You will notice at this stage that the dough becomes springy and elastic. This is the gluten doing its job. (This process is clearly demonstrated in the YouTube film). Tip: If you are re-using the same bowl it will need a quick clean to prevent the dough from sticking. Throw in a small handful of flour and rub around with your fingers to remove any dough that has stuck to the sides. A thin smear of olive oil around the bowl at this stage will help to slide it out later.

Lift back into the bowl and leave to rise in a warm place for a further two hours or so. Pre-heat oven to 230ºC/Gas mark 8 and put your cast iron casserole dish in for ½ hour to get piping hot.

Now tip the dough onto a floured surface, and using oven gloves carefully lift the casserole dish from the oven, and drop the dough into the dish. With a sharp knife, you can cut a deep cross in the top to allow for expansion, replace the lid and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. After that time remove the lid and continue baking for another 10–12 minutes. Carefully roll the loaf from the dish, tap the bottom to listen for the hollow sound that tells you it’s ready, then onto a cooling grid for twenty minutes before tearing into it.

You see, no kneading, no effort, just a bit of patience required, and by 11.00 am you have delicious hot fresh bread for lunch.

I have long been a firm believer that anything produced effortlessly is rarely worth the effort, but this bread proves the exception.

UPDATE, 6 MAY 2017: I have been making bread using this method for several years, and I’m now much more relaxed about the method, but that comes with practice. I am more flexible with the starting time for the first mix, and can sometimes leave it until mid-afternoon. The later start still gives you up to eighteen hours for the first proving, which is plenty. But I still start the second process early morning if I want to eat bread for my lunch.

UPDATE, 19 JUNE 2017: I have of late taken to playing with a few fancy variations on this basic recipe, and have found it to be very rewarding indeed. This weekend I made a tomato and olive variety with chilli and oregano, and it was quFullSizeRenderite delicious. The process is simple: at the first stage of mixing, take four to six sundried tomatoes (depending on their size) roughly chopped, eight to ten black olives (stones removed) also roughly chopped. Add a finely chopped small red chilli (seeds removed) and a heaped dessert spoonful of oregano. I like to then pour in some of the oil from the tomatoes, which will give you a smoother crumb, and a softer crust. The chilli is, of course, optional. To leave it out will still give you a lovely loaf of bread. After this, proceed as normal.

UPDATE, 17 MAY 2018: I have recently made a fruit loaf based on this recipe, and I’m as thrilled as thruppence by the outcome. To the basic recipe I added about four tablespoons of vanilla caster sugar (you can use plain caster sugar plus vanilla paste or extract), and two tablespoons of ground almonds. Then, next day at the stretching stage, lay a large tablespoon of Christmas mincemeat along the dough, turn it and lay another spoonful, then continue as above. I’m sure this would also work with a couple of spoons of high fruit jam or conserve. Delicious.

You can also add just olive oil to the recipe, for a variation in texture, or try a small brush of sesame oil over the bread after removing from the oven, whilst still hot. In the meantime, I’ll continue to play and post an occasional progress report. Have fun.


This is such a big day for me. I’ve taken the first steps on the sourdough road and made my first loaf of sourdough bread. There’s no turning back now. It is a kind of commitment as the ‘starter’ needs feeding at least every other day. I’m following the technique in Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall’s River Cottage Everyday book and I began preparing the starter (Italians call it a biga) a couple of weeks ago. Starting with 100 grams of strong flour mixed with enough warm water to form a thick batter which is whisked to introduce air and therefore admit the wild natural yeasts present in the air which is the essence of sourdough baking.

The whole process is fairly effortless but does require a little patience. Every day you pour away half the mix, add another 100g of flour and enough water to maintain the sloppy batter consistency. You will see it begin to bubble in a  day or two but don’t be tempted to use it for at least a week. When the starter is ready to go and smelling very yummy you take 100ml of the mix and combine with 250g of strong flour (white, brown or a mix) and 275ml of warm water. Mix well, cover and leave for about 12 hours. This is your ‘sponge’.

To make the dough you add 300g flour and a couple of teaspoons of salt to the sponge and knead for 10 minutes (or use the dough hook on your mixer). This is really about as near as this comes to hard work. Leave it again to rise slowly, maybe another 8 hours or overnight as I do, in a fairly cool place. The slow rising adds so much taste to the bread.

Knock it back and then prove the dough in a warm place for another couple of hours until double in size. Then tip out onto a generously floured baking sheet, leave covered for half an hour or so then put it into the middle of a cold oven. Place a dish of boiling water on a low shelf and turn oven on to maximum, at least 230ºC, for about twenty minutes, then lower to around 200ºC for a further twenty-five minutes.

Remove the loaf and leave to cool on a wire rack for twenty minutes, then enjoy.

From now on you need to keep the starter ‘alive’ in a warmish place and continue feeding the beast every day or two as before. But with this little bit of effort you will always have the loveliest bread known to humanity. How bad’s that?