Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Other No-Knead Bread (That I'm Totally Obsessed With)

By now the Jim Lahey, made famous by Mark Bittman/The New York Times "No-Knead Bread" is relatively well known, at least among those who like to bake.  I ripped the recipe of of a newspaper years ago, when it was reprinted, but had never actually made it until a few weeks ago, at first because it requires a Dutch oven, and I didn't have one, and then because I guess I just forgot about it.  But then for Christmas I received Jim Lahey's book My Bread which contains the now-famous recipe, along with multiple variations.  I've now made it twice, and I've been pretty pleased with the results, although I have to say the crust gets SO CRISPY that it's actually difficult to slice!  The inside is amazing and flavorful and full of those nice big holes that make it look fancy, but man, that crust is brutal.  Plus, I have yet to make it without burning the top and bottom, which is frustrating.  I'm not giving up on it just yet, but I needed to give it a rest...

And then, a NEW (very close to) no-knead bread developed by the geniuses at Cook's Illustrated, was brought to my attention by my friend Brad (formerly of TableVibrations, currently slave to medical residency).  The recipe is excessively easy, and is made even easier because the awesome bread blog Breadtopia, has super videos illustrating each step, so it's virtually foolproof.  And so fast.  Honestly, pulling the flour out of the cupboard is the most time consuming part (along with waiting for my painfully slow oven to preheat...)

With good bread, it's all about the crust, the texture, and the flavor.  So first, the crust: it's beautiful.  Picture perfect. Appealingly golden hue, just crispy and crackly enough to make it feel special without taking the edge off your serrated knife.  The texture:  Moist, chewy, but with a tighter crumb (i.e., none of the big holes) than "artisan bread," but hey, nothing falls through that way, right?  Flavor: excellent.  This sounds weird, but it actually uses beer and vinegar to increase the complexity of the flavor, making it quite similar to sourdough bread in fact, without the hassle of sourdough starter.  And while I was a little skeptical as I added the beer and vinegar, I have to say, it really adds something.  Coming from a non-beer drinking family, my options for this step were Heineken and Smuttynose--we had a couple of bottles of each sitting in the pantry.  I opted for the Smuttynose, because it just seemed weird to add Heineken into real food.  I am happy with how it turned out, but I'm open to experimentation in the future.

In the end what really set this recipe apart for me was the fact that it didn't burn when I baked it, the fact that it retained its shape well, making for slices that are big enough (at least in the middle) for sandwiches, and the nicely balanced crust.  

So, if you don't have a Dutch oven already, borrow one, or buy one (you'll be hooked, then you'll really want to have your own!)  And, while we're talking about Dutch ovens, let me say that they come in a huge price range.  A Le Creuset enameled cast iron Dutch oven could set you back a couple hundred dollars, depending on what size you buy.  However, Martha Stewart's cookware line at Macy's has a nearly identical one for much less, and they go on sale fairly often, so if you time it right, you can snag one for $30 or $40.  Lodge Logic is another brand that makes basic, non-enameled pots that are also right in that lower price range of $30 to $40, and can be found on Amazon or in some cookware stores.  I personally like an enameled pot, because it's non reactive, so it can be used for cooking stews and other things with acidic ingredients that could react to cast iron, but that's a whole other discussion.... In any case, grab a Dutch oven, a food scale if you have one (this is SO FAST with a food scale!), stir, wait, knead a few times, wait some more, bake, and you will have amazing bread that you won't believe you made yourself!

Cook's Illustrated (Nearly) No-Knead Bread
Makes 1 perfect loaf

The white and wheat flour recipes are nearly identical, and the process for both is the same.  To watch an awesome video that shows exactly how easy this bread is, click here.

White Flour Recipe:
* 3 cups (15 ounces) all purpose or bread flour
* 1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
* 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. (7 ounces) water at room temperature
* 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. (3 ounces) mild flavored lager
* 1 Tablespoons white vinegar
* Oil Spray, such as PAM

Whole Wheat Recipe:
* 2 cups (10 ounces) all purpose or bread flour
* 1 cup (5 ounces) whole wheat flour
* 1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
* 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 2 Tablespoons honey or raw sugar, such as Sugar in the Raw
* 3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons (7 ounces) water at room temperature
* 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons (3 ounces) mild flavored lager
* 1 Tablespoon white vinegar
* Oil Spray, such as PAM

1. In a larger mixing bowl, combine the flour(s), yeast, salt, and sugar or honey (if making whole wheat)

2. Add in the water, beer, and vinegar, and stir until combined.  This dough starts out on the dry side, so you might need to use your hand to finish incorporating the ingredients.

3. Put the bowl in a plastic bag or cover with plastic wrap, and put in a warm, draft free place for 8-18 hours.  (If my kitchen is on the cold side, like, under 70 degrees, I put my dough in the oven with a bowl of hot water that I change a few times, just to create a slightly warmer, more humid environment.  Another trick is to leave your oven light on and the door slightly ajar.

4. After 8-18 hours, turn out your dough onto a lightly floured surface.  Roll the dough around gently to coat with flour so it doesn't stick, then knead it lightly about 10-15 times.  If you're like me and actually like kneading dough, it will be hard to stop, but do, because this dough doesn't need (knead, ha!) your love.  Gather the sides of your dough and pull it towards the center and pinch it together--this creates a nice, smooth exterior for your loaf.  

5. Take a large piece of parchment paper and place it on a cookie sheet or in a skillet.  Place the dough, pinched side down, on the parchment.  Spray the top with your oil spray, and then re-cover it with the plastic wrap or plastic bag.  Allow to rise for an additional 2 hours.  

6.  1 1/2 hours into the second rise, preheat your oven to 500 degrees F, with your Dutch oven inside.  

NOTE: If your Dutch oven has a separate handle that's attached with a screw, unscrew it and plug the hole with a bit of aluminum foil--I know that the Martha Stewart Dutch oven handle is only rated to 450 degrees, and Jim Lahey writes in My Bread that when his recipe was published in the NYTimes, cooking stores reported a rash of petty thefts involving Le Creuset handles, presumably to replace those ruined by the high heat required to bake this bread.  Lodge Logic handles are made of metal, so they should be fine.

Right before you're ready to put your bread in the oven, sprinkle the loaf with flour, and using a razor or a sharp serrated knife, cut a slit about 1/2 inch deep across the middle of the loaf.  When your oven reaches 500 degrees (or as hot as it gets), CAREFULLY pull out the Dutch oven.  Make sure you have a potholder or a trivet down so you have somewhere to put your hot pot!  Lower heat to 425 degrees F.  Gently transfer your bread, on the parchment paper, into the Dutch oven.  

Cover the pot, and then bake for 30 minutes with the lid on.  Remove the lid and bake for an additional 10 minutes uncovered.  (If you have an instant read thermometer, the inside of the loaf should be at least 200 degrees F, but if it's beautiful and golden, then you're probably set :) 
Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.  Perfect for toast, sandwiches, and snacking.  


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  2. This came out great, Macy! We made the white flour version and used Magic Hat. Your instructions are, as always, vivid and detailed. Thanks for the great recipe!