Sunday, September 27, 2009

Lahey/Bittman's No-Knead Bread: Experiment #1

We have been Panera addicts but, sadly, they recently decided to fluffy-fy their bread and remove the flavor from their other baked goods -- at least it seems that way to us. I guess they are chasing the market that likes supermarket baked goods. Meanwhile, our local Publix (supermarket) is starting to have more "artisan breads." So we are not totally in the wilderness when it comes to good bread -- but almost.

I'd heard rumbles of a "no knead" bread recipe and decided it was time to do research. The recipe now in wide distribution was initially published in 2006 in the New York Times in a column by Mark Bittman. Bittman had gotten the recipe from Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery. Many have tried it and claimed it fool-proof so I thought I'd give it a try.

People experimenting with this recipe have developed all sorts of variations and recommendations. Although said to be "fool-proof," flour, ovens, pans and the like vary. I decided to try a loaf sticking pretty closely to the original recipe.

The bread produced by this recipe is a boule with even holes throughout and a wonderfully crunchy, toothsome crust. It wasn't perfect but after the recipe I will tell you why and will suggest what my next experiment will be with this WONDERFUL, MAGIC, NO WORK recipe!

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon double-acting yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups water (boiled and cooled to tepid if your tap water is heavily chlorinated like ours is)
  1. In a deep, large bowl, mix the dry ingredients thoroughly and stir in water until all flour is moistened. The dough will be a shaggy mess at this point.
  2. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 18-24 hours. The dough will slowly grow until it more than doubles. The dough will be a sticky, hole-filled, bubbly mess at this point--and remains so until you bake it.
  3. With a wet spatula and wet hands, flop the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Use the spatula to fold in the edges of the dough. This breaks up some of the larger bubbles and pulls the dough bottom around to the top.
  4. Cover lightly and let sit on the board 15 minutes to rest.
  5. Place a length of foil across a large salad bowl as one would a hammock between two trees. Flatten the foil against the bottom and sides of the bowl leaving the ends of the foil draped over the bowl edges. You have now made a hammock for the dough.
  6. Flop the dough into the foil-lined bowl and cover loosely, leaving plenty of room for rising.
  7. Let the dough rise an additional two hours.
  8. About 1 1/2 hours into this last rise, set the oven to 450°F and put a covered casserole or dutch oven in to preheat.
  9. When the dough is done rising and the oven and pan are hot, use the foil hammock to flop the dough into the pan, wiggle the pan to center the dough, cover and bake for 30 minutes.
  10. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes.
  11. Take the loaf out of the pan and cool on a rack.
Evaluation of Exeriment #1
  • Yum! We've gotta do this again! It's as easy as it seems.
  • The loaf was a bit salty for us since we eat few prepared foods and don't use much salt. Next time I will use less. This is a bit of a surprise since others have said they needed more salt in theirs.
  • It stuck to the pan and took some serious convincing to get out. Next time I will follow the recommendations of some and put a sheet of parchment in the pan or I might even experiment with putting a spring form pan in a larger cast iron pan.
  • The interior was just a smidge underdone. I didn't believe my old thermometer which said the internal temperature was only 200°F. Some of the web pages said to make sure the interior reaches 210°F. Next time I will increase the length of time in the oven to make sure the inside gets done.
  • The bottom crust was just a bit dark and too thick. I think my oven may run a bit hot and so, after reading about the effect of temperature on crust in Bernard Clayton's The Complete Book of Breads, next time will see me setting the temp a bit lower. I may also deflect some of the radiant heat by putting a cookie sheet on the lower shelf an inch or two under the dutch oven.
And then I will report back with experiment number two. Word on the web is that you can use different flours and other additions and get variations that work wonderfully. I'm anxious to try the version that says replacing some of the water with a bit of plain yogurt results in a slightly sour bread with a better texture for sandwiches.

Some folks cook it in cast iron, others in glass or pyrex. All that matters is that the pot is covered. It is being covered that makes the wonderful crust.

I'm headed back in the kitchen for another slice. It really is a wonderful way to have fresh bread without much work or flour flying all over the kitchen.

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Imprecise & Inexpensive

Two themes predominate in my approach to cooking. 1. Daily cooking of flavorful food need not be a precise art. 2. You can be an adventurous cook on a budget. Cooking and eating should be fun for both cookers and eaters.