Thursday, February 05, 2009

I had never made bread before, until I tried the NYTimes No-Knead Bread Recipe from Jim Lahey, which went along with this article in 2006. It fast became a favorite, and with good reason. It's deliciously amazing, and so so simple. We've probably made it about 30 times since then, and would have devoured it more except we're not good at restocking our flour. Last fall the NYTimes revisited the recipe (1, 2) and changed it slightly for quicker timing. I haven't tried those since I've found the original recipe--with a few tweaks--works wonderfully for us.

The best part about this bread is the crust. It's actually crispy! The brilliant part of the recipe is the use of a lid for your cooking vessel and a very wet dough. Your covered pot becomes an oven inside and oven, and the wet dough makes a moist environment for the bread to bake in....resulting in a marvelously crispy round loaf of bread (better than the supermarket!).


Photo by my friend Ruthie.

This bread has been such a hit, not only in our own house, but with friends, that many people ask me about it. It's one of those things that I love to share because it's changed my life and I'm pretty passionate about this bread...it's so easy...and so good! I keep meaning to take photos of the process, so at some point I may update this post a bit more.

Below I'm listing my adapted recipe, which is much easier to do IMHO and still results in great bread. You can find the original using the links above.

Tips we've discovered:

*Instead of using those little packets of yeast, just buy one little jar of yeast and keep it in the fridge, it lasts for months and is faster and easier to use. The jar to look for is bread machine yeast (instant yeast).
*The dough rises faster at 70 degrees but in winter we keep our house at 55 and it works fine too so the temperature doesn't matter much. If you do have a cold house, one way to speed up the process is to put the bowl of dough in your unheated oven with the oven light on. The oven light will warm up the space.
*Sometimes I use a tiny bit more than 1 5/8 water if it seems to dry when you mix the ingredients, especially if I'm using a wooden bowl because it sucks up some liquid. I've never used less than the recipe amount, but I've definitely used more...up to 1/4 cup more.
*We rarely follow the exact times for the rises...generally we just mix the ingredients before bed, turn the dough the next morning and then bake it in the evening after work or late at night. We did make bread a couple of times when we had left it sitting for over 24 hours...it worked OK but not great so try to do it within 20 hours like the original recipe says. Find a schedule that works best for you.
*We don't use any special pot to bake it in like they suggest...just an inexpensive stainless steel soup pot (a cooktop one: either our 8 quart Cuisinart Classic Stock Pot, which is almost too big, or our 3 quart Cuisinart sauce pan. I've also tried a cheap $10 roasting pan which worked fine, but not as good...probably due to the wavy bottom), the most important thing is just to use some kind of pot that you have a cover for. Size also isn't so important: when Ruthie makes this bread she uses a very small sauce pot and it comes out fine. You just need to make sure that whatever you use is OK to 450 degrees. It shouldn't have plastic handles or a non-ovenproof lid. There are also other alternatives (that I haven't tried) if you don't have lids, or only have casserole dishes.
*We don't use a towel to cover it because it always sticks to the towel for us, so instead we just use a cutting board to cover it and then lay the dough upon in the last step. This creates much less mess--there's no laundry to do, and the flour only gets on your cutting board (not your counter).
*There's no need to even touch the bread with your fingers, just use a spatula for all steps! (Except possibly the very last ball-forming step).
*It's fine to skip the cornmeal/wheat bran. We have tried this part a couple times, but it wasn't as good, in our opinion.
*It's important to have your pot pre-heated, otherwise it may not bake right.
*If you're using the pot for multiple loaves of bread, you'll want to clean it out between uses, which can be tricky to do when hot!
*Adding in herbs or other ingredients works well too. Garlic is also good.
*We almost always make two loaves now, because one is not nearly enough!
*This bread makes wonderful croutons/stuffing when dried.

____________________________________________
OUR ADAPTED NO-KNEAD BREAD RECIPE:

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting (if you want)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 5/8 cups water

Time: Rising times vary, but you can start this in about 5 minutes.

1. [In the evening, after dinner]
In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir with a (we use silicone) spatula until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. If it's not sticky and a bit gooey add some more water. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a cutting board. Place the spatula on top to rest. Let dough rest [overnight] (at least 8 hours), preferably more, in the warmest place in your house. If your house is cold, place it in the unheated oven with the light on.

2. [In the morning, before work....or right when you get home in the evening]
Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Using the spatula fold it over on itself once or twice, or just mix a little bit. Cover loosely with the same plastic wrap or cutting board and let rest for a few hours.

3. [when you get home from work, or in the evening]
Make sure that your pot fits in your oven. It will probably be necessary to rearrange your oven racks, or take one completely out. Remember to do this before pre-heating! At the same time, if you've left your dough in your oven, make sure to take it out. A very important step. Also, put oven mitts or towels in close proximity in preparation for baking.

4.
At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 2- to 8-quart covered vessel (stainless steel, cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, ceramic or anything else oven-safe to 450 degrees) in oven as it heats.

5.
Option a) [My husband]
Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to your work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Coat your cutting board with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on board and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Let it sit for about 20 minutes, or longer, as you wait for the oven to heat.
Option b) [My lazy way]
Do nothing, or just use the spatula to fold it into a blob-ball, still in the bowl.

6.
When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Transfer your blob into it either by hand, or using gravity by plopping it out of the bowl with a spatula. It may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Slightly shake the pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes (set a timer!), then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes (or more), until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

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2 Comments:

Blogger marilyn c. cole said...

Great list of tips! You're definitely inspiring me to bake some bread this weekend.

8:38 AM  
OpenID lorigami said...

oh man. next week is going to be so full of bread!!!!! thank you for sharing your tips.
xo
Lori

9:02 AM  

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