I love the simplicity of this bread. It’s now a staple in our house; a loaf that I go back to whenever I need something tried and true, or I don’t have time to overcomplicate things (pretty often these days). It’s for that reason that I highly recommend including this bread in your repertoire.

Watch how it’s done

Like many things that seem simple, there’s a lot of synergy to this loaf. No seeds, spices, fruit or nuts to hide behind. No fancy shapes. No loaf tin to provide support while you wait patiently for the loaf to spring forth. For a truly beautiful result, a lot of factors must come together.

Nailing it

For one, the bulk proof must be timed to perfection — so you get an unbiased community populated with both small and large holes. In the depths of winter, our kitchen drops to 20°C (68°F) during the day, making it necessary to extend the bulk proof as long as 9 hours. When temperatures soar, as they are for us now, the proof can be shortened to just 3 hours. I highly recommend reading the breakdown of my proofing system if you need help with nailing the bulk step.

Just as critical as proofing is strength development. Early development is shirked here in favour of a relaxed schedule — a long rest to develop extensibility, before three sets of stretches and folds spaced half an hour apart; four if you need more strength. I prefer making this when it’s colder; things move slower and the loaf has more time to develop flavour.

When it comes time to shape, make sure you build up enough tension on the surface of your boule or batard. You’ll know things are falling into place if shaping is a breeze and you can manipulate the dough into a tight mass.

This loaf is relatively high hydration, but the inclusion of wholegrain flours in the mix means it stays manageable during shaping. I don’t bother with pre-shaping but, again, if you find that your loaf is not as strong as it could be, then you may opt to shape twice.

Don’t forget a few structural scores to give it the best chance of popping. Some decorative ones too if that’s your style. And crank that heat box right up before it goes in.

The pay off

If you get everything right, then you’ll be rewarded with an airy crumb and a mild flavour that makes this loaf super versatile. A scant portion of rye is included in its flour mix — a nod to its history and the rye that inevitably found its way into the fields of wheat that were harvested for this bread. Rye helps the loaf ferment faster (though not as much as a proper rye bread) and it also helps it caramelise just that little bit more. It also adds some depth to the flavour of the loaf.

As the product of my last baking effort gets snapped up and all we’re left with is crumbs, I retrieve my starter from its resting place in the fridge, coax it back to life, and–more often than not–it will be folded into the preparation of this very loaf. In fact, I think I hear the call of the dough right now.

No-Knead French Country Loaf

Serves 8 Makes 12 slices Cook Time: 36 hours 45 minutes Total Time: 36 hours 45 minutes
  1. Mix 2 hours 20 minutes
    • 320 grams bread flour 80%
    • 60 grams wholewheat flour 15%
    • 20 grams rye flour 5%
    • 320 grams warm water 80%
    • 80 grams levain 20%
    • 8 grams salt 2%
    1. 5 minutes
      Flour and salt Add the flours and salt to a bowl or container and mix thoroughly.
    2. 5 minutes
      Water and levain Measure out the water and levain into a separate container. Loosen up the levain and mix it into the water.
    3. 10 minutes
      Combine wet and dry Add the levain water to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Ensure there are no spots of unincorporated flour.
    4. 2 hours
      Autolyse Leave the dough to sit for 2 hours.
  2. Proof 5 hours 50 minutes
    1. 5 minutes
      Strech and fold Perform 6 stretch and folds.
    2. 30 minutes
      Rest Leave the dough to rest.
    3. 5 minutes
      Stretch and fold Perform 6 stretch and folds.
    4. 30 minutes
      Rest Leave the dough to rest.
    5. 5 minutes
      Stretch and fold Perform 6 stretch and folds.
    6. 30 minutes
      Rest Leave the dough to rest.
    7. 5 minutes
      Stretch and fold Perform 6 stretch and folds.
    8. 4 hours
      Rest Leave the dough to rest for the remainder of the bulk proof. This will be anywhere from 4 to 12 hours depending on the temperature of your kitchen.
  3. Shape 30 minutes
    • 10 grams rice flour (or wheat flour)
    1. 5 minutes
      Dump onto bench Lightly flour your bench and, with wet hands, empty the dough from its container.
    2. 5 minutes
      Stretch Gently stretch the dough out into a circle the size of a dinner plate.
    3. 15 minutes
      Fold Fold the bottom half of the dough up towards the top. Fold the left and right hand sides in towards the centre like a pair of crossed arms. Fold the top down towards the bottom and tighten to form a ball.
    4. 5 minutes
      Transfer Transfer the dough to a banneton or a bowl lined with a tea towel and lightly dusted with flour.
  4. Cold retard 24 hours 5 minutes
    1. 5 minutes
      Cover Enclose the dough in a puffed-up plastic bag, sealed with a food clip.
    2. 24 hours
      Rest Leave the dough to rest for half a day to a day.
  5. Bake 4 hours
    • Dutch oven
    • Sharp knife, scissors, or a lame
    1. 1 hour
      Preheat oven Preheat your oven with an opened dutch oven to 230°C (446°F) for 1 hour.
    2. 5 minutes
      Retrieve dough Take your proofing dough from the fridge and have it ready.
    3. 5 minutes
      Take out dutch oven Using thick oven gloves, take the two pieces of your dutch oven from the oven.
    4. 5 minutes
      Turn out dough Turn the dough out from the banneton onto the shallow side of the dutch oven.
    5. 5 minutes
      Score Dust the dough with flour and quickly score the dough. A structural score, like a square is best to maximise oven spring.
    6. 5 minutes
      Close dutch oven Close the dutch oven and place it into your oven.
    7. 20 minutes
      Bake with steam Set a timer for 20 minutes.
    8. 5 minutes
      Remove lid Remove the lid from your dutch oven and place it to the side.
    9. 10 minutes
      Final bake Bake for another 10 minutes or until the loaf looks golden and caramelised.
    10. 2 hours
      Rest Remove the loaf from the oven and leaf it on your bench to rest for at least an hour, but preferably 2 hours.

Comments

  1. Only left it in the fridge for the afternoon and it still came out awesome. Thanks for the detailed steps!

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