JACKI LYDEN, host:
And now, from the garden to the table. I remember the first time I baked a loaf of bread. We called it the doorstop. I measured, I mixed, I kneaded, and I produced a golden, crusty brick. And you know what? I never baked a loaf of bread again.
Now, a new cookbook promises to take the ache out of baking. Nancy Baggett is the author of "Kneadlessly, that's K-N-E-A-D - Kneadlessly Simple: Fabulous, Fuss-Free, No-Knead Breads." She lives and bakes in Ellicott City, Maryland, not far from Washington, D.C., so we paid a visit to her kitchen to learn the secrets of kneadless baking.
Ms. NANCY BAGGETT (Author, "Kneadlessly Simple: Fabulous, Fuss-Free, No-Knead Breads"): Kneadless bread, in fact - we think of it as very novel and revolutionary now — kneadless bread is actually the way it was made before people figured out that you could knead bread.
There's a chemical process that goes on. It bubbles, and that natural bubbling action of the yeast, actually if you give it time, it will knead itself.
LYDEN: What kind of bread are we going to make?
Ms. BAGGETT: We're going to make your classic, crusty, artisan-style pot bowl(ph). I call it a pot bowl because you make it in a pot, and it actually provides the steam that gives you that crustiness that you would otherwise have to have a commercial, steam-jetted oven to make.
It is my version of the very famous New York Times recipe. There have been multiple versions, and I've heard that mine's the best, she says modestly.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. BAGGETT: So let me go ahead and get started. It does - as I say, it does have its own little method that's a little different. The first thing I probably should mention is the method in which I tell you to measure the flour.
You scoop down into either the sack or canister and scrape across the top, and it takes four cups.
LYDEN: And you're just putting it into a nice, big, clear, glass mixing bowl.
Ms. BAGGETT: Into a big bowl. And the big bowl is really important because this takes a long, slow rise, it will really, really puff up. And so, even though you might be used to a bread that rises, maybe doubles, it will, say, double in bulk, this is likely to go up three times.
So if you skimp on the bowl, you may have, whoa, dough coming out at the top.
LYDEN: Baggett adds the ingredients with the quick, precise movements all professional chefs seem to have. The flour, rapid-rising yeast, a touch of salt, sugar for extra flavor and one key component, ice-cold water.
Ms. BAGGETT: And the reason that we use the ice-cold water is it gives, it's called retarded first fermentation, a fancy way of saying the yeast is retarded by the cold water, and enzymes then go to work, giving the bread extra good flavor and texture.
Now, simply stir this together. It takes a little bit of elbow grease, but in about 30 seconds, it'll be blended together, scraping down the sides just a little bit. And that, after you scrape it down, is it.
LYDEN: Nancy Baggett gives her dough a quick squirt of cooking spray, covers it in plastic wrap and sets it aside. Now, if you were baking this at home, you'd have to set your dough aside for 12 hours or so, then stir it a little bit and let it rise for a few hours more.
So through the magic of radio, we happen to have, right here, a risen blob of dough, ready to be popped into the oven.
Baggett pulls out a pot, a Dutch oven, any Dutch oven, that's been preheating, and she tests it to be sure that it's warm enough before tipping in the dough.
Ms. BAGGETT: The way you know that it's ready.
(Soundbite of sizzling)
Ms. BAGGETT: Is if you sprinkle a little water, it should steam.
LYDEN: Your pot, yeah.
Ms. BAGGETT: Yeah. Steam in the pot.
LYDEN: How do you know if this dough is ready?
Ms. BAGGETT: Because it is doubled from its original size.
Ms. BAGGETT: Now, we're also going to see that as soon we turn the dough into the pot, it will sizzle again. And that's a good thing because it's that steam, and I'm simply turning the dough, inverting it without any shaping whatsoever, into the pot. Here we go.
LYDEN: That's so interesting. It sort of looks like cooking a big biscuit.
Ms. BAGGETT: Now, the last little (unintelligible), you'll get even better than usual browning and crisping by just sprinkling a little water on the top. So, put the lid back on, and then the last little step before you put it in the oven, just in case it's a little lopsided and ragged, you shake it back and forth. And that suffices for all of the shaping that you might do.
LYDEN: And you know what? That really is it. All that remains is to bake it, and of course, like the (unintelligible), to eat it.
Oh, this is gorgeous, it's nice and golden and crusty and round. It looks very, you know, peasant, very…
Ms. BAGGETT: Exactly. Peasant-style, which is what I call it. So let's cut it, and we'll make sure that really is crusty.
(Soundbite of cutting bread)
Ms. BAGGETT: We'd like to try a slice?
LYDEN: We would love to try a slice, Nancy Baggett, thank you.
Ms. BAGGETT: So here we go. And this is pretty good.
LYDEN: It's just delicious, Nancy. It's really so good.
Ms. BAGGETT: If you can - you know, if you can measure, and you can stir, you can find the time, and you can make a good bread, really.
LYDEN: Nancy Baggett. Her new book is called "Kneadlessly Simple," and it is. It's a lovely way to make bread. Thank you so much.
Ms. BAGGETT: You are quite welcome. Happy baking.
LYDEN: And if you now feel bold enough to bake your own bread, you can find this recipe on our Web site at npr.org. Send us an e-mail, and let us know how it worked out.
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