Friday, February 18, 2011

Bread, Bread, Bread

"I won't quarrel with my bread and butter."  ~ Jonathan Swift
Let's start by saying the recipe for No-Knead Bread has been around the block more than a few times.  That doesn't mean it doesn't bear repeating in this blog.   This bread is a simple, luscious loaf for the solo baker, wonderful with honey and butter or jam and  in later reincarnations as toast, in sandwiches or for bread pudding for one.  It keeps nicely if well-wrapped, which is important to you.

The first time we saw it was in a 2006 NYT Minimalist  where Mark Bittman interviewed Jim Lahey, of Sullivan Street Bakery at 533 West 47th Street, documenting the process for an incredibly delicious artisan-type bread.  (Mr. Lahey, with Rick Flaste, has since written a book on the subject, published in 2009.) 

(Courtesy: WW Norton)

This particular loaf, a boule,  is scrumptious to the max, but also qualifies in the very-easy-to-make category, albeit time-consuming.   Two years later, a quicker version (four hours rise) of the bread was developed; it eats, but not nearly as well.  There's even a whole wheat version that I haven't tried.  I'll admit to knowing (I watched the video!) that Jim Lahey didn't exactly agree with the idea of a faster bread made this manner, but thought you could try to decrease the time involved by still using a  minimal amount of yeast and adding some vinegar the the dough.  Watch here a lively, fun video with Lahey and Bittman in which they kibitz about the faster bread and bread in general.

Quick version

Equipment:  To make this bread you need a big bowl and a wooden spoon.  No Kitchen Aid, no 15 minutes of arm wrestling the dough into submission; it's great for newbie bakers as well as grandmas with arthritis.  One caveat:  it does require a good-sized, heavy baking vessel (6-8qt) with a lid.  We're talking "cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic."  I had a huge, lidded glass pot that I had bought at a thrift store to make beans in the microwave (a perfect way to use the technology of the microwave) and it worked admirably.  Could you improvise?  Probably, but the oven temperature is 450 F and you must have something to withstand that pizza oven-type heat.  You also need two cotton towels, like flour sack towels; terry won't work.

Time:  Read the recipe all the way through first.  While simple, this is bread time-consuming, requiring 12-18 hours for the rise. You'll need to start the dough the night before if you want it for dinner.

At the risk of incredible redundancy, but with love for the solo cook (and maybe young beginning cook), here's the recipe-- with a few additional "helps" from me:

No-Knead Bread
  • 3 c all-purpose or bread flour plus more for dusting
  • 1/4 tsp "instant" yeast ( Dry  yeast in the small square packages, not  jarred, fresh yeast in the refrigerated area) 
  • 1 1/4 t salt (Up for interpretation.  Many people use table salt for baking; kosher salt doesn't measure exactly the same.  I've tried both with good results.)
  • Cornmeal or wheat bran, (You can use flour here and not buy another item.)
  1. In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast and salt.  Add 1 5/8 c water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky.   Make sure the dough is well-blended.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap.  (You could use a heavy towel if you don't have plastic wrap.)  Let dough rest 12 hours, preferably 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
  2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles.  Lightly flour a working surface (Take a couple of tablespoons worth of flour and dust your counter) and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest 15 minutes.
  3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers (this means get some flour on your hands and on the dough--perhaps  1T for each), gently and quickly shape into a ball.  Generously coat a cotton towel with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, etc.  Cover with another cotton towel (I put flour on it) and let rise for about 2 hours.  When it is ready, dough will be more than doube in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
  4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 F.  Put a 6-8 qt heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats.   (You're creating a fake oven in the oven.) When dough is ready, carefully--it's darned hot--remove lidded pot from oven.  Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look a mess, but that is ok.  Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it cooks.  Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes.  Remove lid and cook another 15 to 30 minutes (I've tried 15 and 20; at altitude 20 is nearly burnt on bottom, but still delicious) until loaf is beautifully browned.  Cool on rack.  Yield:  One 1 1/2 pound loaf.  (Basic recipe courtesy NYT, 2006)
Here are a few pics from a couple of efforts:  
It was freezing this day; I'm checking the air temperature for the rising of the dough.

Have fun baking and taking care of yourself,
Pictures copyright Alyce Morgan, 2011 (with the exception of the book, MY BREAD, courtesy WW Norton)

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