Monday, March 11, 2013

Easy No Knead Bread (Really!)

Easy No Knead Bread

You Can Do It!  No Knead Bread

I'm not a big fan of store bought bread. The soft white stuff, which my mom called "air bread," never made it into the shopping cart - no matter how much I wanted it to. Instead, Mom bought Brownberry Oven bread.

Now, I have NOTHING against with Brownberry Oven bread. Matter of fact, the nut bread rocks toasted with a smear of cinnamon butter or cream cheese. But, when everyone else in your class has a nice PB&J on "air bread" and you have apple-butter on whole wheat...well, yuck.

Home baked or artisanal breads are a completely different matter. I love a good crust. A couple of my aunts were great at making homemade bread when I was growing up. I'm guessing they learned from my Yia Yia in their native Greek.

Now, my mom didn't get the bread gene. She and yeast were not good friends. So, when she tried the bread a few times we simply painted the baked loaf with colorful patterns and used it for a doorstop. I joke. (As far as you know.)

I feared bread...until I worked in a commercial kitchen and made enough pizza dough to do it in my sleep. And, now I love the smell of a nice yeasty loaf.

I recently tried a "no-knead recipe" developed by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery.
 (There is a nice video with Jim along with Mark Bittman at that link.) The process was very simple - it took no virtually no effort but quite a bit of time.  Most of it thought was simply allowing the bowl to rest on the counter.

I did the recipe twice. This No Knead variety makes a very wet dough.  Very wet. And, the first time I ended up working a lot of flour into the dough. The result was a round (and very pretty) loaf with a very tough (read: almost inedible) crust and a tight interior structure.

I decided to do a little research because my technique needed some help. I turned to a video with Peter Reinhart. His "Stretch and Fold Technique" worked nicely in my second attempt. The result was a flat loaf with a very pale Artisanal look (read: not the nicest to look at.) This time the crust was tasty and the crumb was softer and had fun air pockets. Apparently we were too busy eating it for me to get any photos.

Mom would have loved THIS "air bread!"

Now, the difference in the shape and color likely had more to do with the temp of the kitchen, numbers of hours the dough was allowed to rise, humidity, etc. There are many factors which Peter discusses in his books.

No Knead Bread (adapted from the New York Times recipe)

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. (I used half AP flour and half bread four.) Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface 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 rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double 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 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.
Have you made No Knead Bread?
Chances are good that you have the ingredients.
Mix up a batch tonight and treat your family to home baked bread tomorrow!

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