Thursday, 5 May 2011 | 10 comments

Back-to-basics boule

A few years ago, Louise discovered no-knead bread and our lives were never the same. If this sounds dramatic, then clearly you’ve never been to a party we’ve co-hosted. We bake bread in a sneaky effort to get someone to comment positively on it—and then proselytize bread-baking to anyone that we can get to sit still for a few seconds. (It works best if we strategically serve the bread after guests have had a few glasses of wine first.)

I try not to be preachy about what you should and shouldn’t eat in this little corner of the internet, but I will make an exception for the Gospel of Baking Your Own Bread. Mostly because there is no moral or political or anti-hipster or anti-foodie reason not to do it. Everyone loves warm, fresh bread; everyone loves when your house smells like warm, fresh bread. Everyone loves not spending much time or money to make something great. Nostalgic attachments to Wonderbread aside, you have nothing to lose.

If I’m not mistaken, Lou got the idea for this boule from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day. I want to give credit where credit is due, but we’ve used and emailed and tweaked so much that it’s just become our boule, a freewheeling, add-whatever-you-want blank canvas of a loaf. The base recipe is just flour, water, yeast, and salt, and after you make it for awhile, it starts becoming an auto-pilot recipe. I often make dough in the morning, let it slow-rise all day in the fridge while I’m at work, and then bake in the evening. The dough is super forgiving. If you, like me, are often overly bright-eyed and ambitious in the morning about what activities you’ll conquer when you get home from work, you can just punch the dough back down and put it back in the fridge for a second slow rise.

Locavores, break out your hand-gristed grain. Health nuts, throw in your flax and buckwheat. And all the rest of you can use all-purpose flour. Ben likes to put a lot of cornmeal in his boule (“Keeps the troops in the field”, supposedly). In any case—this can be your bread. Make it.


This is the very basic recipe. If you’d like to add seeds, nuts, oats, or other add-ins, incorporate it in during the loaf-making stage. If you’re going to use whole-wheat flour, be advised that I’ve never successfully made this recipe with all whole-wheat—-rather, we have best results using half white, half wheat. Otherwise, the dough is too heavy and doesn’t rise enough.

You will need

    6 1/2 cups flour + more for sprinkling
    2 packets active dry yeast (not rapid rise)
    2 tablespoons kosher salt
    2 1/2 cups just-warm water + possibly more


  1. With a wooden spoon, stir together flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir yeast into water and allow to sit for a minute or so. Pour yeasty water into dry ingredients, stirring, until the just-wet dough forms a shaggy mass in the bowl. If the dough is not sticking together, add up to another 1/2 cup water to the mix.
    Now, if you dislike washing extra dishes, turn the dough out onto the counter and bring it together with your hands to form a ball. Wash the bowl in which you mixed the dough, and lightly oil it with olive oil. Return the dough to the bowl. Cover tightly (with foil, or a towel and a rubber band, etc.—something that can breathe but still relatively seals the dough). Allow to rise until doubled in size; about two hours in a warm room or overnight in the fridge.
    When you’re ready to bake your bread, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. If using a baking stone, make sure the stone is in the oven during the preheating. If using a baking dish (glass, ceramic, etc.) to bake your bread, butter and four the dish to prepare it.
    Punch down the dough and form it into four ball-shaped free-form loaves (“boule” means “ball” in French!). Alternatively, you can form the dough into two bigger, longer loaves; I find you have best results with smaller loaves with this recipe.
    Allow the loaves to rest for 30-40 minutes while your oven preheats and gets stably hot. Spinkle the tops of the loaves with flour, and then slash the tops of the loaves several times with a serrated knife blade before putting in the oven.
    Steam makes a crunchy crust, so during the first 10 minutes or so of baking, throw a few shotglasses of water against the wall of the oven to create steam while the bread is baking. After the first ten minutes, turn the oven temperature down to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, and bake 15-25 more minutes, until deep golden brown and loaves sound hollow when you knock on them. When you remove them from the oven, the loaves should “sing”, making crackling noises while they cool. (This is one of the best parts of bread baking.)
    You will want to eat it right away. Don’t! The bread is still baking inside. You can even wait ten minutes or so, the bread will still be warm, but will be much better prepared for prime time.

§ 10 responses to Back-to-basics boule

  • Louise Searle

    Reading this made me miss you so much! Can’t wait for you to visit and bake with me on my giant pink quarzite baking stone.

  • I am totally with you on the Gospel of Baking Your Own Bread. It is so, so easy, less expensive than buying a loaf, and when you make it yourself, you know exactly what’s in it. Go out and proselytize, sister. :-)

  • Lovely looking boules! I’m all for home-made bread. I haven’t bought bread from the store for a couple of years at this point.
    A question about your method: the no-knead breads that I’ve made replace kneading either with (a) a very long rise or (b) with occasional turning in the bowl–how does the dough here develop the requisite gluten for the proper structure with such a short rise? Am I missing something?

    • Hi Katie,
      It’s true that a longer rise allows the gluten to develop more (and makes your bread more flavorful). I’m not sure if no-knead bread is replacing kneading with a long rise, though—there are lots of kneaded bread recipes that still include long rises.
      The crumb is softer and finer, but I’ve made boule after letting it rise in a warm place (I hope there are no hardcore bread-bakers in here, I’m sorry) to double its size, and it bakes up just fine. Which is nice, actually, because I can make dough when I get home from work and then have it for dinner. And I should note that the recipe calls for either a quicker rise or a longer, cooler rise, which is my preferred method.
      Hope that answers your question! –S

      • Sorry, I should have been more specific: a long rise at room temperature. If you’ve looked at Jim Lahey’s basic recipe (which, as far as I know, is the original no-knead), the first proof takes something like 17 hours on the counter. Maybe I’ll have to check out the book you reference in the post. I’m always looking to understand more about bread.

  • Jo-Ann McDermott

    I think there’s a mistake in your recipe. You have the oven preheating to 450 initially, and then you turn the oven down to 450. I’m thinking that you meant 350. Is this right or did you have another temperature?

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