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Calling all fellow would-be boulangers: painless, one-pot "Pain Pepin"

We always hear that baking is a strict science, which makes yeast baking a scary prospect for many otherwise capable cooks. A year ago I bought a larger dutch oven solely because I wanted to try Cooks Illustrated's version of the NYTimes/Lahey/Bittman no-knead bread, which came out spectacularly well. I then made a rye version, which was not as lovely because I should have added Vital Wheat Gluten. I bought the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day book but have yet to bake from it, largely because my fridge is always too full to fit the big container of dough!

Enter Jacques Pepin, whose mastery of cooking technique is unsurpassed. His take on easy yeast bread is the best yet - and takes maybe 2 minutes active work time. The flour, salt, water, yeast, and tepid water are stirred together in a 3-4 quart nonstick pot till combined - this takes just seconds. Put the lid on and let sit until doubled, about 90 minutes.
Stir for a couple of seconds to deflate, replace lid and either leave it till doubled or refrigerate overnight for a slower rise. Remove lid and bake at 425-450 for 40 minutes, then dump out the loaf and invert onto a cooling rack. I am unable to resist tweaking a recipe even if it's something with which I have no prior experience. So for my first attempt instead of 4 c white flour I used 1 unbleached white, 2 white whole wheat, 1 dark rye + 2 T vital wheat gluten. I kept the 1 t yeast and 2 t salt, added 1 T honey, and misread the recipe so instead of 2.5 cups water I had 1.5, which soaked in instantly so I added a half cup. The yeast was from a packet opened a year ago, and of course I didn't use the right amount of water - plus it's cold in the house, even near the heater. So no wonder that it took 7 hours from start to when the dough was ready for the oven! Recalling the CI recipe, I left the lid on for the first 20 min. The nonstick pot is old and doesn't really live up to its claims - between that and being shy a half cup of water, it's no surprise that some prying was needed to get the bread out. STILL -
success! Good crust and flavor. Yesterday, I sprayed the pot with Pam. I used 2.5 c of apple cider, 1.5 t yeast, 2 c unbleached flour, 1 c white whole wheat, 1/2 c old-fashioned oats, and 1/2 c steel-cut oats - the rest of the ingredients were the same as my first attempt. This time it rose faster and higher (4 hours from start to placing in oven) and plopped out of the pot without coaxing. This one came out even better. These breads do not have as impressive crusts as the dutch oven bread, but have fewer steps and don't require a 500 degree oven. Summer is not the time for a lot of hot-oven experimentation - maybe by then I'll be competently kneading and shaping elaborate loaves!

The obvious lesson is that as in other sciences, baking has room for, and forgives, quite a bit of innovation and error.

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  1. I have a friend, whom I consider to be a master bread baker, who says that rice flour on the bottom of the pot will make the bread release easily. I haven't tried it yet, but will the next time I make a no-knead bread in a dutch oven (mine stuck the first time).

    1 Reply
    1. re: roxlet

      The CI version has you put the dough in a parchment-lined bowl to rise, then lift it with the parchment and put the whole shebang into the dutch oven. The parchment, although it scorches, aids in lifting the finished loaf out.

    2. I saw that episode and got excited. I'm dough-phobic so can't begin to tell you what fear the word "yeast" has always struck in me. He was SO casual about it, wasn't he? None of that if it's too cold..., if it's too warm.... He just made bread. Thanks for reporting in.

      1 Reply
      1. re: c oliver

        Yeast baking is nothing to be afraid of if you understand a few basic principles. I very roughly measure yeast but liquids and flour must be measured carefully until you develop your sense of touch and baking experience. The biggest problem most people make is not checking the dates on their yeast and using water that is too hot. I never use water over 90° and I would suggest that you are generous with the yeast if the dates are questionable. A thermometer is necessary to bake, but these can be purchased for $10-15.

        I like to use filtered or bottled water because the chlorine in water will kill the yeast, but you can let tap water out for a few hours to let the chlorine evaporate.
        The amount of liquid that flour will absorb varies, even among the same brand and protein content and you will often need to adjust your amount to get the required consistency. I never add the salt to the yeast mixture until it has flour in it because it can kill the yeast if they are added together.

        Please take time to bake because it is a very rewarding experience and it tastes fantastic.

      2. I've been thinking of trying this, but a couple of things have held me back:
        - my 3 qt non-stick sauce pan does not have an oven proof handle
        - I don't have free space in the fridge for the overnight rise

        I may still experiment with my hard anodized dutch oven. Overall volume is right, just shallower.

        It may work with a shorter rise in a cool room, or overnight outside.

        1 Reply
        1. re: paulj

          Just baked a loaf, following Jacques's recipe (white flour etc). Mixed and baked in a 3qt hard anodized dutch oven. The resulting loaf had a lighter texture than my previous attempts at a non-knead bread, with a chew, but not particularly crisp top crust. But it stuck pretty bad to the sides and bottom corner of the pot. The bottom didn't stick as much as I feared.

        2. I am so glad you tried this! I have been wanting to ever since I saw JP do it on tv!
          thanks for reporting.

          1. Is there a link to this recipe on-line?

            9 Replies
            1. re: Deenso

              It is someplace on this site
              I don't recall whether it is a recipe, part of a full episode, or a short clip
              It's in episode 209, Fast Proof

              1. re: Deenso

                I never saw the show - someone mentioned it on CH and I googled for it but don't remember who had it. But this is all there is to it: Stir 4 c flour, 2tsp salt, 1 tsp yeast, and 2.5 cups tepid water together in a 3-4 qt nonstick pot. Cover and let sit on counter for 60-90 minutes or until doubled (took over 2 hrs in my case). Stir to deflate. Cover and put in fridge overnight for a slow rise, or leave it out until it doubles again. Bake uncovered 40 min in 425-450 oven then dump it out of the pot.

                1. re: greygarious

                  Greygarious, did cut it into slices or more like wedges like a cake?

                  1. re: cassoulady

                    I cut off 4 equal-length arcs around the perimeter, which left me with a square that could then be cut into uniform rectangular slices. The second loaf toasts well and held up in a sandwich. Since I'd had to pry the first one from the pot, it wasn't then cohesive enough for regular slices, so I buttered bigger hunks to have with soup. Not having a standard loaf shape is for me an acceptable trade-off for the convenience of using just one pot and a spoon. Today I am trying a half-recipe in a Corningware casserole - the original white rounded-off square shape with the blue flower.

                    1. re: greygarious

                      when you sprayed the Pam, did you do this before the initial mixing of the dough ingredients or did you take the dough out before it went into the oven, spray, and then replace the dough? I am going to try this tonight!

                      1. re: Cebca

                        Used the Pam in the pot before adding the ingredients and mixing them with a wooden spoon. The pot is a 10+ year-old black 3 qt Farberware thing that was heavily promoted on TV at the time as the "do anything" or mayble it was "do-it-all" pot. It is not very heavy, with a pretty thin non-stick coating that performed well at first but on which I no longer rely. It's shaped like a small pasta pot, with 2 metal handles, so it can go in the oven. I expected that the Pam would just get absorbed into the ingredients and not help release the bread, so I was pleasantly surprised that it worked so well. However, I just took the half-recipe, baked in the above-mentioned white Corningware casserole, pammed before adding the flour, etc., out of the oven and the bread is stuck into it like cement. I poked a knife down the sides and will start prying when it's a little cooler to the touch. It's going to break into pieces, I'm sure, but there's another container of soup in the freezer so it will still be usable. So I guess the old Farberware pot still had some nonstick ability. I really would like to be able to halve the recipe but in the 3qt pot it would only be about an inch thick, so next time I will try mixing everything together right in a nonstick loaf pan. It might not work as well, given the corners, but I'll hope my rubber spatula will get everything blended. The only hard thing about this recipe is that not everyone has the right pot for it!

                        1. re: greygarious

                          Yeah, thats my problem, the pot I am envisioning using is a large stainless pasta-style pot . . . how big of a diameter would you say yours is? Mine is, I am thinking, about 9". Too big?

                          1. re: Cebca

                            The Farberware pot I used is 8" in diameter which was fine with the 4 cups of flour, as long as you're okay with the bread being less than 3" high. 9" might be stretching it --- I never saw the TV show and can't watch the Pepin video since I have dial-up. Suggest you follow HaagenDasz' link below to see what Pepin used and the shape of the final product.

                            I got the latest effort out of the Corning pot more or less intact, but won't use it again. Aside from the sticking, the bottom half of the bread is a more compact crumb than the top. Probably this is due to the slowness of the ceramic to heat up - with the one-pot simplicity, you give up the quick spring of a preheated pan or baking stone.

                            1. re: greygarious

                              Based on your comments (and my 1 experience) I'm tempted to do the 2nd rise and bake in a 8" spring form cake pan.

                              With a 10" dutch oven, my 4cup loaf was 1" high at the rim, and 3" at the center.

                              I suspect Jacques was using a 7" diameter pot. I have a number of ones in the 2 - 3 qt size that about that, varying more in height than diameter.

                              Regarding cutting a round loaf: people who have been making the non-knead loafs in 5qt (or larger) dutch ovens have dealing with this. You can also buy round sourdough or rustic loaves. What you need is a nice bread knife, 9 or more inches long. It doesn't have to be expensive.

              2. For those wanting to watch the actual preparation by Pepin, you can watch it online via the site:

                Episode 209: Fast Proof

                1. In the original post, it says 2.5 cups of cider vinegar! Can that be right?

                  And can I do this either in a Le Creuset dutch oven, or in a lighter-gauge enamel casserole? Or does it have to be lined with Teflon or similar. Thanks. I'm intrigued.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                    The proportions that JP gave on TV are:
                    "Stir 4 c flour, 2tsp salt, 1 tsp yeast, and 2.5 cups tepid water together in a 3-4 qt nonstick pot. "

                    Other proportions and ingredients in the original post were experimental.

                    The reason for the nonstick pot is that you are mixing, proofing, and baking in the same pot. Pepin tested and demonstrated this in a deep 3-4 qt quality nonstick pan. One thing that we are trying to figure out is how far you can deviate from that and still get good results.

                    Greasing a sticking pot before mixing does not seem to help. Greasing between punching down the 1st proof and starting the 2nd may work. I don't know if well season cast iron will work or not. I may have to test it in my 2qt camp oven.

                    The attraction of this recipe lies in its simplicity. Greasing and transfering it between pots between proofing stages adds a step.

                    I don't know if the weight of the pot matters or not. Since you are not preheating the pot, a pot that does not have a lot of thermal mass may be best (that is aluminum better than cast iron). The thermal mass of my cast aluminum DO did not seem to be a problem.

                    Another thing, this dough is somewhat wetter than the 'Bittman' non-knead that we have been making in a preheated dutch oven. You can stir it and punch it, but not form it.

                      1. re: greygarious

                        Sorry! My fault for skimming recipes late at night. Apple cider sounds like a great substitute for water.

                    1. hi, i tried this bread saturday morning. used paula deens 3.5 qt cast iron dutch oven. first time making bread without machine. Forgot to spray pam...followed the ingredients,only added 1 tsp sugar. stirred and let it rise covered in warm kitchen.
                      stirred it again and let rise 2nd time. it really rose nicely.
                      cooked it at 425 for 40 min.
                      did not come out at first, used knife to cut around sides, and then it plunked out with some help. crust was not hard. we like that.
                      wow, so nice toasted with jam, perfect with my pot roast.
                      i cant wait to try it again.
                      i think i will use parchment paper next time, and let it rise the first time in a bowl, and 2nd time in dutch oven with parchment paper sprayed with pam.
                      i am really impressed with this recipe and that i can make some good bread.
                      i am not competent enough to mess with the recipe too much. i will keep my eye out for all the experimenters on chow blogs.
                      thank you for all the comments!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: HAMBONESBAR

                        In the original post, graygarious writes that he/she doesn't make artisan bread in 5 minutes because his/her fridge is too small for the container of dough. I really think you should try this bread. It's truly wonderful and you can bake it all at once or leave it in the fridge. I actually have put it into a plastic bag and stored it in the fridge. It's sticky to get out, but not that bad, and the plastic-wrapped dough will fit in a small spot, if you use bending and smushing and squeezing.

                        This bread is espcially great for rolls. I sprinkle a bit of coarse salt on top before baking. It takes a short time to make and rise which makes it versatile. You can make a batch of dough on the weekend and then lop off a piece or pieces and bake after you get home from work. It only needs a 1/2 hour rest after removal from the fridge.

                        Now I gotta try Jacques P's version!

                      2. Today I had success making a half-recipe in a nonstick loaf pan. To be sure the dry ingredients were well-blended, I stirred them together in a bowl before dumping into the pan and then pouring in the water and stirring with a rubber scraper, careful to get into the corners. So the bowl didn't even need washing, just a swipe with a paper towel. It was easy to deflate after the first rise by gently swishing it around with the rubber scraper. Baked for 25 minutes at 425, and took its temp - 200 F, as recommended by Father Kitchen.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: greygarious

                          Since it was cold and damp today, I wanted to use the oven so I made a full recipe again, in the old round nonstick pot. As with the 4-5 other times I've used this technique, I left the pot out for the second rise, so it was all done in one day. The previous times I used the pot, I covered it for the first half of the baking time, thinking I'd get more spring that way, but mine never came out as tall as on the TV show. So this time it was uncovered for the entire baking time, and came out way taller than my previous efforts. Nice crispy crust, too. However, there are other variables. This was the first time with spring water - other times tap water and/or apple cider. Also this time, all King Arthur's white whole wheat flour, plus 1/4 cup pinhead oats. The other times part of the flour was swapped for rolled oats or rye flour. This is as close as I've come to following M. Pepin's exact directions, since I don't use white flour if I can avoid it. It's certainly a good confidence-builder for beginning bread-bakers.

                        2. Since I am also "yeastophobic" but love Jacques recipes as well as his laid back attitude I forged ahead. Like the good/seasoned cook I am, I possess the ultimate array of kitchen gadgets which includes both nonstick as well as SS pots/pans from several companies. However, it looked like Jacques used probably a 3qt. nonstick saucepan. My ovenproof Calphalon is 1qt.......my 2qt. & 3 qt. nonstick are Wearevers - not ovenproof to 425. Sooooooo after researching the website to first find the episode plus going online to see if my Wearever's were actually ovenproof I became obscessed with this recipe! I hit Marshall's/TJ's on my lunch hour to see if I could find a low priced facsimile. I, instead found the most wonderful pan which cost $5!!!!! Sorry, can't remember the company name.........knew this would happen.....I believe it was from a German company, however, China made. It is 4" deep, 8" in diameter, [3qt pot size] dark nonstick metal, & works like a springform pan minus the locking mechanism......you just put the bottom in push it down. I figured it would probably leak, so I tested it & it did in fact slowly drip water. To alleviate that little speed bump, I did the prep mixing in a bowl, then poured the thick batter into the pan ------- worked perfectly! No greasing, no parchment! I used plastic wrap as a lid. I knew before buying that it would be useful for cakes as well, so $5. well spent! And now the bread.................YES, I DID IT!!!! Every attempt @ this bread baking excursion was exactly as Jacques both said/displayed.....it proofed beautifully, bubbled overnight beautifully, & baked beautifully! After baking,I went around the inner edge with a knife to loosen, & popped the bottom out. Had to go around the edge of the bottom to loose the very outer edge......no big deal, once around it came right off just like a cheesecake. Like someone stated, it is a chewier, rustic type boule, on the order of Focaccia. I cut the end curve off, then just sliced across to form long slices which we made Pannini's with......brush with ex.virg, add Prosciutto, boccocini, basil leaves, roasted peppers.....my husband went wild! I think this will be great toasted or used for Frence toast as well.
                          Hope I am of some help to all! Sorry, didn't think to pic until 3/4 consumed! Bon Appetit!

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: jackie2830

                            Why hadn't I discovered the Pepin recipe earlier, I don't know. I consider myself a rather accomplished cook & baker. Consequently I've tried many of the easy ways to do bread; Lahey, Bittman et. al., but JP's is by far the best. I've made his version of No Kead bread for a couple of times, and his is by far the best recipe, producing the best rise, crumb, crust. Since I don't own a nifty non-stick pan similar to JP's I had to use my small LeCreuset stock pot and the only hazard was my first batch stuck to the pot. Afterwards I mix it quickly in another large bowl, let it rise once and then dump it into the PAM sprayed LeCreuset pot. Stellar results and it is forgiving enough of a recipe that I've tinkered around with it a lot. Here's a photo of the dough on the 1st rise before I dump it in the LC. I still like bread made/kneaded the old way using my faithful Kitchen Aid machine with the dough hook. This recipe is great to accompany soups, spaghetti, stews and great when you are in a hurry.

                            1. re: 4culiniarians

                              I guess results may vary. I tried the Pepin method and did not like it. Even when the crust was almost black, the inside was still heavy and more than a bit gummy. I tossed the entire loaf. Lahey's dough is very wet, but Pepin's is almost pancake batter (if you figure a cup of flour is 4.5 ounces, in baker's percentage it calls for 110% water). Maybe it was the shape of the pot, but it seems there was no way for all that water to cook off. Congratulations to everyone that had success with this method, but I'll stick with recipes where you can actually shape a loaf, even it it is rather floppy.

                          2. I have a cast iron (non-enameled) dutch oven that I never use, because I turn to my Le Creuset when I'm making chili or pot roast or whatever. Will it really work to use this cast iron, as long as I use Pam first?