Bittman has an article about the technique in today's Times -- he's as usual over the top enthusiastic about a technique he's only tried for three weeks. But I chatted with Jim Lahey several years ago at his shop. Lahey struck me as a down to earth fellow, and loved the bread from his Sullivan Street Bakery and at a number of restaurants he supplies, especially at Babbo.
Here's a recent "New York" review of the bakery itself: "A Soho institution with a Hell's Kitchen outpost, Sullivan St. Bakery has been home to the best baked bread in the city for the past ten years, gracing restaurant tables from Babbo to Bistro Margot. Classics include their signature pane Pugliese, with a dark, crusty exterior concealing a soft, spongy core. The raisin walnut loaf, packed with whole grains, nuts and plump raisins, is dense and delicious—a meal in itself. Though the sweet treats tend to err on the dry side, the flour power of the bread never disappoints. — Sandra Nygaard"
Bittman quotes an email from Lahey: "'I’ll be teaching a truly minimalist breadmaking technique that allows people to make excellent bread at home with very little effort. The method is surprisingly simple — I think a 4-year-old could master it — and the results are fantastic.'"
Boy, if a four year old can do it, I probably can conquer the technique as well.
Recipe: No-Knead Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.
1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.
Free regristration required.