Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Bicoastal Chefs present... No-Knead Bread

This past weekend, the world righted itself: the Bicoastal Chefs were reunited. This time, in California. While we cooked and baked an impressive amount of delicious food, this was one of the stand outs:
No-knead bread.

This bread will change your life; it certainly has changed ours. This recipe is astoundingly easy and at the end of it you have baked bread that rivals rustic boules in fancy bakeries.

While there may have been some recipes for no-knead bread hidden in the world before 2006, an article by Mark Bittman catapulted no-knead bread into the public's eye... and kitchen. In this article, Bittman details Jim Lahey's method for no-knead bread. Lahey claims this method is so easy, a 4-year old could do it. And, he's right. This recipe requires very little skill and 24 hours. And this is what you get at the end:
Here's the method. First mix together, flour, yeast, and salt. Then add water. Mix that up. This literally takes 2 minutes.
Cover the bowl with a damp towel, put it in a warm place, and let it rise for 12-18 hours.
After the initial rise, your dough should be bubbly at top.
Now, lightly flour a countertop and pour the dough out.
Notice how lacy it is! That is exactly what you want, because that means the gluten have developed during the long rise.

Once you have it on your surface,
sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough and fold it over itself once or twice. Be sure to flour your hands as well, because the dough is very sticky. Then cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes.
At this point, you are going to shape the dough into a ball and plop it onto a cotton towel, generously coated with flour. Sprinkle more flour (cornmeal or wheat bran would work also) on top of the dough and cover it with another cotton towel.
Let it rise for 2 hours.
About 30 minutes before you are ready to bake your bread, preheat your oven and pop your Dutch oven in to get it warming up. Once the dough has finished its second rise, place your hand under the bottom towel and turn the dough oven into the Dutch oven. Shake the dough once or twice so it is even, and into the oven it goes.
After 30 minutes of baking with the lid on and 15 minutes with the lid off, you get this:
Making bread this beautiful is bound to make your feel good about yourself for a very long time.

Cool it on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes. Don't skip this step, because you need the steam in the dough to continue to form the crust even after you take it out of the oven. If you listen carefully, you can actually hear the crackle of the crust forming.

Now, you are ready to cut into this glorious bread. Get ready to be impressed with yourself.
And get ready for a life of bread-baking to begin.

No-Knead Bread (adapted from Jim Lahey)

3 cups all purpose or bread flour, more for dusting (430 grams)
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 1/4 tsp salt*
1 5/8 cup water (345 grams)
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

In a large bowl combine flour, years, and salt. Add water, and stir until blended; the 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.

Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle 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.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape the 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 read, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- or 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 okay. 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 1 1/2 pound loaf

*In a follow-up article, Bittman suggests a few ways to fine tune the recipe. Once suggestion is adding more salt, if you like. He adds just under a tablespoon.
**15 minutes was perfect for us.

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