Saturday, 25 October 2014

Wholemeal no-knead bread

Wholemeal no-knead bread
I adore the smell spreading throughout the entire house while bread is baking in the oven.
According to a scientific research, the aroma of freshly-baked bread, besides the obvious power to make your mouth water and stimulate appetite, may have other positive effects: like a sort of aromatherapy it seems to awake a positive mood, make a person more sensitive, and even trigger a benevolent behavior towards other people, even strangers. I am not sure that I become kinder thanks to the delicious smell of freshly - baked bread (need something stronger), but for sure making bread improves my mood and gives me great satisfaction; and this is why I love to make and bake my bread at home.
I have already said here that I do not possess a stand mixer to make dough without much labor, and that I therefore usually prefer to make no-knead breads. But the fact that I don't have an electric machine with planetary mixing action is pretty much an excuse, a banal justification to my unwillingness to do a pretty hard work. Because kneading is not difficult, but requires time and a bit of elbow grease. And I am lazy, like most of the people of my generation (younger people are even worst, but ... that's it). Nowadays everybody is used to get everything (including home-made food) quickly and easily; and I think that it is not always and not only a matter of limited availability of time, but a modern mental attitude. In fact I remember- and with great nostalgia - my nonna (grandmother in Italian) and her extraordinary energy.
My nonno, her husband, had a farm, where they cultivated wheat, barley, corn, sugar beet and more, grew grapes and olive trees to make wine and olive oil, raised several farm animals (chickens, rabbits, turkeys). and had a vegetable garden for the family needs (how wonderful is to go in the garden, choose the ripe vegetables, go home and prepare them straightaway!). When I was a child and my grandmother an already aged lady, she was still involved with her husband in the pretty hard work that managing a farm requires. Well, after all this work (that was physical, sometimes tough work) she always found the time - and the will - to make fresh eggs pasta at least for the Sunday's family lunch (pranzo della domenica): this means that she made and kneaded the dough, rolled it out into a nearly perfect disc and finally cut into even strips (the tagliatelle), everything exclusively by hand.
But the bread, she used to buy it every day; and she always bought the plain, white bread (for the people of her generation white bread was synonymous of wealth). And when I went with her to the bakery, she used to tell me how, when she was young (and my mother a child), bread was usually made at home using the flour made from the wheat they grew; and the bakery was the place where bread was brought to be baked, because at home they did not have a proper oven. It was a long work, so bread was not made every day but once or twice a week (maybe this is why she used to buy bread just for one day, so that it was always fresh).
This may seem a very old story, but actually this is how my grandparents lived when they were around my age, about 50- 60 years ago And today our trouble (mine at least) is to have or not a planetary mixer just for kneading! We are definitively much luckier than we believe!
These memories made me forget my no-knead bread.
Wholemeal no-knead bread
This bread, which is not properly a no-knead bread because it is handled with the so called stretch and fold technique, is my family's everyday bread and my favorite (at least so far). I love it non only because it does not require kneading but because it is really good, better than many store-bought breads. When we have guests for dinner, this is the bread I prepare for them, and it has always been much appreciated. I arrived to the recipe I am going to share by mixing up and modifying several recipes for no-knead bread found on the web. If you are already familiar with no-knead bread you will probably find some differences between this recipe and the one you are used to, but trust me, this version gives a really good and tasty bread. I like wholemeal bread, so I usually use wholewheat flour (but also wholegrain spelt or rye flour), but It is also possible to use different combinations of flour or simply white plain flour; in this case the quantity of water may vary: always start with the minimum and add more water to obtain a sticky, soft mixture.
It does not need any kneading, but needs a long resting in the fridge, at least 12 hours and up to 1 week (personally I have never tried to keep it longer than 3 days): this is the only thing to remember when planning to make it. Also it doesn't require any particular tool, just a big mixing bowl and a spatula or a wooden spoon. And when it comes to bake it, a regular baking sheet is fine, even if a stone tray would be the best.
Wholemeal no-knead bread

Wholemeal no-knead bread
makes 3-4 small loaf or 1 big  
300 g wholemeal wheat bread flour1
200 g white bread flour1
380 - 400 g water (room temperature)      
3 g dry yeast                                           
6- 7 g salt                                                     
1 tbsp malted barley (or honey, but don’t omit because it helps the yeast work)
Topping (optional):
mixed seeds (white and black sesame, sunflower, pumpkin...)
oat flakes
corn starch 1 tbsp
1It is possible to increase or decrease the quantity of wholemeal flour depending on how much you like the flavor and texture of the unrefined wheat flour. With this ratio the wholemeal component is very clear but not overwhelming.

In a big bowl combine all ingredients and stir with a fork until you obtain a sticky, squashy dough (don't worry, it has to be like this). The quantity of water depends on the type of flours used; start with the minimum and add some more if you find it difficult to mix all ingredients together. Cover with plastic wrap and put in the lower shelf of the fridge for at least 12 to 18 hours (you can leave it in the fridge up to 1 week).
Take the dough off from the fridge and use it straight away (when cold it is easier to handle it). Put the dough onto a floured working surface and make some folds, this way (it is easier to do then to explain): with your fingertips shape the dough into a rectangle then fold both short sides toward the center, one at a time, as you were folding a tissue or a napkin. Since the dough is soft and sticky you can use a dough scraper to do the operation. Then turn the dough 90° and repeat this operation for 3 to 4 times (you will feel the dough becoming more “resistant” and stretched). This operation, combined with the long rising, helps the gluten development.
Wholemeal no-knead bread: stretch and fold

At this point, using a dough scraper or a knife cut the dough into three parts, then with floured hands, shape them as you prefer,  and put each loaf onto  piece of baking sheet; since the dough is very soft, in order to keep the shape of the loafs, put them into something with similar shape (a loaf-pan or a mixing bowls for round pieces) or, alternatively,  put something on the sides under the paper sheet  (e.g.  bottles of water). Let it rise, at room temperature, for about 1 hour. Then preheat the oven to 230° C and put inside the baking tray on which you will cook your bread (a stone tray would be the best, but a normal baking sheet works well too) and place on the bottom of the oven a small pot filled with 1 cup of water.
When the oven reaches the temperature (230° C) prepare a sticky mix with 1 tbsp corn starch and some water (it will work as a glue for the seeds you are going to place on the top of the loaf). Using scissors, make some diagonal cut on the top of the uncooked bread, brush with the mixture and spread the seeds and the oat flakes. This is an optional step but, if using different seeds to top your bread (like I use to do), the cornstarch mixture will help to stick them on the surface. Carefully transfer each loaf (with the baking paper on which it rested) on the hot baking tray and cook for 20 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 200° C, remove the pot with water and cook for other 10 minutes or until the surface is golden brown. At this point beat a little the bread surface: if it sounds as if it was “empty”, the bread is ready.
Transfer to a wire-rack and let it cool before slicing. 
Wholemeal no-knead bread


  1. The bread looks perfect! I love tales from Italian family, it involves so much of food and make for great memories!

    1. Thanks! Actually it is likely that Italian family memories have something to do with food; many lovely things happen when sitting around a table with the whole family...