Almost No Knead Artisan Bread

Makes 1 large round loaf.

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS:

For a no-knead bread recipe that would produce a loaf with a consistent shape, we strengthened the dough by lowering the hydration and giving it the bare minimum of kneading time (15 seconds). To give the bread more flavor than the standard no-knead recipe, we added acidic tang with vinegar, and a shot of yeasty flavor with mild-flavored lager. When we started the baking process in an covered pot, the lid trapped released steam, creating a springy loaf. By finishing the baking with the loaf uncovered, we created a beautifully browned crust.

An enameled cast-iron Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid yields best results, but the recipe also works in a regular cast-iron Dutch oven or heavy stockpot. (See the related information in "High-Heat Baking in a Dutch Oven" for information on converting Dutch oven handles to work safely in a hot oven.) Use a mild-flavored lager, such as Budweiser (mild non-alcoholic lager also works). The bread is best eaten the day it is baked but can be wrapped in aluminum foil and stored in a cool, dry place for up to 2 days.

INGREDIENTS

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (15 ounces), plus additional for dusting work surface 
1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water (7 ounces), at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mild-flavored lager (3 ounces)
1 tablespoon white vinegar

INSTRUCTIONS

Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Using rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours.
Lay 12- by 18-inch sheet of parchment paper inside 10-inch skillet and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead 10 to 15 times. Shape dough into ball by pulling edges into middle. Transfer dough, seam-side down, to parchment-lined skillet and spray surface of dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with finger, about 2 hours.
Adjust oven rack to lowest position. Lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or sharp knife, make one 6-inch-long, 1⁄2-inch-deep slit along top of dough. Pick up dough by lifting parchment overhang and lower into 6- to 8-quart heavy-bottomed Dutch oven (let any excess parchment hang over pot edge). Cover pot and place in oven. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Once oven has reached 425 degrees, bake bread for 30 minutes.
4. Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 210 degrees, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove bread from pot; transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.

Transferring dough to a Dutch oven to bake can be tricky. To help the dough hold its shape, we came up with a novel solution: Let the dough rise in a skillet (its shallow depth makes it better than a bowl) that's been lined with greased parchment paper, then use the paper's edges to pick up the dough and lower it into the Dutch oven. The bread remains on the parchment paper as it bakes.

-Cook's Illustrated via Becky Crane