In addition to our regular dinner cooking shifts, we have also included various DIY food-processing type chores in the coop labor system. At the moment we make our own yogurt and bread regularly, and we make veggie stock (from veggie ends and scraps and peels), granola, and seitan occasionally. The yogurt and bread have been my duties for the better part of the past year, which on average amounts to a gallon of yogurt and four loaves of bread every other week. One loaf of the four gets left in the pantry for consumption in the next few days after it’s baked and the other three get sliced and frozen to be eaten over the following two weeks.
People get intimidated by making bread, but it’s really not very difficult or complicated. It’s not easy to achieve professional-like consistency in your bread without lots of fussing and measuring and checking the humidity report, but it is pretty hard to make inedible – or even un-tasty – bread. It just involves more waiting time than other sorts of baking that don’t use yeast for leavening. This is not so much trouble for me, since I work from home at least a few days a week and can do my writing or answer emails or make phone calls or workout or whatnot all while patiently waiting for the yeast to do its magic. However, when you scale up past two or three loaves at a time, the kneading part of bread making becomes a bit arduous by hand, and our 8-cup standing mixer bowl is just not large enough to accommodate that much dough without turning our pantry into a remake of The Blob. This is just the perfect scenario for No-Knead Bread!
There are been a number of no knead bread techniques that have gotten media play over the past few years, starting, I think, with Jim Jahey’s crusty loaf baked-in-a-lidded-pot that was featured in the New York Times in 2006. It makes a beautiful crusty, round, boule that is delicious, but is a little fussier than what we need for regular toast and sandwich making here at the coop. So, instead I use a scaled up version of the whole wheat master recipe from the book Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day* which I was introduced to by a former coop-mate. It’s a really simple process of mixing dry and wet ingredients all together, waiting, portioning into loaves, waiting a little more, and baking. The only weird ingredient is vital wheat gluten powder, which we keep on hand anyhow for making seitan. This makes a pretty wet dough, which is why you don’t need to knead it to develop the gluten (moisture develops gluten on it’s own given time), and it’s easy to incorporate various ‘add-ins’ for variety: raw millet and rolled oats are common ones in our house, but you could also use nuts or dried fruit. I threw in some raw red lentils a few weeks ago which added a nice crunch and color. The crumb comes out really moist and if you bother to steam the oven a bit while it’s baking you can get a good crust on top of the loaf. It works as well in loaf pans as in a free form boule or other shapes. And, if you have way more space in your fridge than we do, you can also just bake off one loaf at a time and keep the unbaked dough in a big bucket in the fridge until you want another one.
When I baked bread for a 100-person commune and had a big Hobart mixer, I could easily turn out 12-14 loaves of regular fluffy kneaded bread in a few hours, and that was just one day’s worth, but this no-knead version works pretty well as a plain, go-to, versatile bread recipe and technique here in the 6 person coop. But, when I’m feeling fancy, or as a compliment to a dinner night, I’ll do up a more novel breadstuff like some butter buns or pull apart rolls or this swirl bread from last week.
*Note that I don’t actually believe in or endorse the idea that whole grains are healthier than husked grains, which is what the marketing of this book is based around, nor do I believe that “healthy” can be used as a blanket descriptor for any food or group of foods, without taking into account the extremely nuanced, varied, and individual circumstances of the person eating that food. But that’s the title of the book, and it is a really good recipe.