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Posts tagged ‘artisan’

bread for tomorrow – the no-knead loaf

Did you know that ¼ teaspoon of yeast can rise a loaf’s-worth of dough just as well as a tablespoon? It’s true. It will simply take longer for it to do so. But there’s a real beauty in that. The old adage good things take time applies. With each extra hour the yeast grows, it adds incredibly to the flavor of the finished loaf. So, though some recipes for home-baked bread will have you adding nearly a tablespoon of yeast, and sugar for it to feast and grow quickly on, and have you rising the dough in a warm place, that’s meant for your convenience and to hurry the process. If you slow it down, you’ll love what happens!

This may be the easiest – and possibly one of the most delicious – breads you’ll ever bake. Start it today, finish it tomorrow, and there will be curtain calls and encores in your future! Do I exaggerate? Occasionally, I have, yes. But here, no.

For full-effect, a true Dutch oven is required for this. Cast iron is best because it creates its own highly-conductive little furnace to bake the bread in. Higher-end brands like Le Creuset or Staub are lovely and come in many colors. But just as effective here are non-enameled (lidded) cast iron pots that you might see hanging over a campfire. The latter are inexpensive but require a bit more care in the cleaning, curing and preventing of rust. Always nice to have options though.

I’m sorry to repeat myself, but a digital kitchen scale makes this process so much simpler too, and with fewer things to clean up after. (See preceding posts if you haven’t already.)

This method (ingenious really) was first developed and introduced to us several years back by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. Since its introduction, this No-Knead method has rather revolutionized home bread-baking. Without terrifically expensive ovens (the kind of which are almost never seen in home kitchens), this bread’s crust wasn’t reproducible at home before. You can see for yourself though, loaves reminiscent of old-world bakeries can now emerge steamy and fragrant from our own rather ordinary ovens.The secret lies in the steam that’s created and contained within the Dutch oven as the bread bakes.

This bread will cost you the equivalent of 3 cups of good-quality flour. We won’t calculate the cost of ¼ teaspoon of yeast or a spoon of salt. Let’s just say this gorgeous bread costs less than a cup of coffee or tea (even a very bad cup.)

Let’s get started.

No-Knead “Artisan” Bread

and you are the artist!

  • 3 cups (375 g) flour (either all-purpose or bread flour)
  • ¼ teaspoon instant or active dry yeast
  • 1¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups (375 mL) water
  • Extra flour, wheat bran, fine cornmeal, as needed for dusting

a NOTE on the weight measurements, this primarily for the readers in the States who are as yet not as familiar as we will one day be with metrics. One beautiful thing about the metric system is that grams and mL’s are virtually interchangeable. In other words 100 mL’s of liquid will weigh 100 grams. Don’t you love that? That makes it possible to weigh out water measurements instead of the more approximate method of filling a glass measure where “a tad above-the line, below the line, eye-level” all makes a difference. Weighing is exact, every time.  (If you have a scale, it will likely convert US measurements to metric with a button-push, but just fyi 375 grams =  13.25 ounces.)

In a bowl, mix the flour, yeast and salt. Stir in the water to blend. If using a scale, place bowl on scale and zero it out. Add 375 grams flour. Add yeast and measure out salt. Zero the scale, and add 375 mL (or grams) of water. Mix loosely. (It will finish the process of blending as it sits.) What you’ll have will be a bit wet, shaggy and messy-looking. Cover bowl with a tea towel and allow to rest (and grow!) for 12 to 24 hours. (If you choose a cooler place, the process will likely take 18 to 24 hours. Room temperature, more like 12 hours.) When the dough is dotted with bubbles and very alive-looking, you’re ready for the next step.

Only 1/4 teaspoon yeast…amazing right?

Generously flour a work surface. Dump the contents of the bowl out onto it.

See all the strands of gluten that have formed while you’ve ignored your dough? This is what will create pockets to contain the gas.

No need to knead, but simply fold the dough over on itself several times. Cover it with a clean towel and allow it to rest for 15 minutes. (Dough that rests like this is much more workable.)

(This next step feels so good!) Using only as much flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to your fingers, shape the dough as follows:

Fold in thirds (as if you were folding a letter for an envelope, one fold, then another.) Rotate the loaf, then fold each longer end in again. (You’ve made roughly a square shape with rounded corners.) What you have facing you is the seam that will open later, upon the final rise in the oven. 

After the first two folds

After the last two folds. Ready to rise.

Lie another towel on your counter and cover with a generous amount of flour, wheat bran or fine cornmeal and then place the dough on it, seam-side down. Be sure the flour extends beyond the borders of the bread as it will be growing. The reason for the generous amount of flour is that you do NOT want the bread sticking to the towel when you go to invert it into a hot Dutch oven.  Dust the dough with a little more flour then cover with a tea towel and allow to rise about 2 hours. In these two hours the bread will have more than doubled its size.  Read more

bread for today

It’s no secret: you can plunk down a lot of good money on a loaf of good bread. A loaf that actually tastes like bread, with honest texture and chew, with a browned crust that crackles when you tear or bite into it and little bits of it spill onto your lap. A loaf with a labyrinth of airy holes inside (to better hold the butter or olive oil), and an aroma that you want to bury your nose in. A loaf like that will set you back at least a several dollars.

Or – easy-as-pie (only easier) – you can make your own. In a recent post I listed bread from your oven as a remedy for the doldrums. It’s certainly that – but it’s not only the eating of it that lifts your spirits – it’s the feel of it, all squishy at first and then soft and powdery like a baby’s bottom. It’s the heavenly aroma that leaks from your oven and drifts through your house. And it’s the sheer miraculousness of motionless ingredients springing to life! Baking bread is simply one of life’s simple pleasures. Eating it is another.

In my previous post (on a grand scale) I laid out reasons why a digital kitchen scale belongs in your kitchen. For bread-making (as I’m about to describe) the process is made nearly fool-proof. You’ll get consistently wonderful results, loaf after steamy loaf. (The weight of “carefully” measured and leveled cups of flour can vary by as much as 2 ounces!)

The first of these two recipes will give you bread today. The second, using less yeast and undergoing a longer, taste-developing rise, can start today but will finish tomorrow. They’re both delicious, and I make each of them all the time. The second, if you can wait, is a-maz-ing! Both take very little hands-on time, the longer method even less hands-on time, so don’t be deterred by the waiting game. While the dough is doing its growing thing, you can be tending to whatever else calls you.

Almost always these days, I’ll bake bread using a Dutch oven. With its lid on, a moist mini-environment is created, one very similar to professional deck-ovens with steam-injection. The crust that results is phenomenal. I’ll give the instructions for with and without a Dutch oven. 

Basic Bread Dough

  • 20 ounces bread flour (4 cups)
  • 12 ounces water (1½ cups)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon active or instant yeast (I prefer active)

Instructions using a digital scale:

Turn scale on. If using a stand mixer to knead your bread, place its bowl on the scale and then zero the scale out. (The weight of the bowl will no longer be counted.) Begin scooping flour into the bowl until it measures 20 ounces. Measure in 2 teaspoon salt. Again, zero out the scale. Add lukewarm water until scale registers 12 ounces. Spoon 1 teaspoon yeast over the top and allow to dissolve in the water.

No scale yet? 

Measure the ingredients into your bowl by cup and spoon. (Never use a two-cup measuring cup to measure flour. The results are much more compact and will therefore weigh more than intended.)

Fit the bowl onto your mixer and using the paddle attachment, incorporate the ingredients fully. Remove paddle and replace with the dough hook. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. This will take about 10 minutes.

(When ready you should be able to remove a small piece of the dough and stretch between your fingers and it will stretch into a translucent sheet without breaking. If it quickly breaks, continue kneading. Another test is simply to use a couple knuckles to press the dough. If it springs back and completely fills the depression, it should be ready.)

Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover it with plastic and allow it to rise to about twice its size.

Now the test for readiness is to gently push a finger into the dough. The dough should offer some resistance. If it springs back rapidly, let it rest a bit longer. If you let it rise too long, the dough will turn a bit flabby and will be a bit more reluctant to give that extra rise once in the oven.)

Turn the dough out from its bowl onto a floured surface and knead it to expel excess gas and redistribute the yeast.

Forming the loaf:     Cover with a dish towel and let rest for 15 minutes. To form a boule (ball-shaped) loaf, simply roll the dough back and forth on the cutting board or counter following a circular motion until smooth and round. Again, cover the dough with a dish towel and allow to rise for another hour. If using a Dutch oven, you can place the boule in the pot and allow it to rise there. (But please refer to the Dutch oven method below before proceeding.) If using a traditional (no Dutch oven method) place the formed ball onto a baking sheet.

Traditional method (no Dutch oven)      After about 30 minutes of bread-rising –  Preheat the oven to 450°F.

(Yes, it’s early but the oven gets better, with a more even heat, if allowed to preheat for a longer period.) If you want to create some steam to produce a better crust you can place a cast iron skillet in the oven on a lower rack when you begin to preheat. Then add a cup of water to the skillet (using mitts to avoid burning!) when you put your bread in to bake.

Just before sliding your bread into the oven, slice an X or a pound symbol # into the top to help it expand for its final (rather dramatic) rise. Coat with olive oil and a sprinkling of coarse salt. Place into oven on baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 450°F then reduce oven temperature to 375°F and continue baking until done, 45 to 50 minutes. (Internal temperature when done, 200°F to 210°F.) Cool on a rack completely before cutting (if at all possible.)

Dutch oven method:  (5½- or 7½-quart Dutch ovens will work – best results with cast iron)

Don’t let this confuse you, but you have yet another option here. Either a pre-heated Dutch oven – the advantage will be a crunchier crust and a bit more rustic appearance, or a cold Dutch oven – the advantage being that you can allow your loaf to rise in the pan, preserving the pretty shape you’ve created. You might try them both and see which you like better. It’s slightly less “intimidating” if you start with the cold Dutch oven the first time. So I’ll begin there.

Cold Dutch Oven: After forming your boule (description above) place in the Dutch oven, the bottom of which has been oiled first. Allow to rise until doubled, then add a coating of olive oil and some coarse salt, and slash the top as directed above. Place the lid on the pot and bake for ½-hour. Remove the lid and continue baking until done. (The internal temperature will register 200°F to 210°F) another 15 to 30 minutes. Remove and cool on rack. The crust will make the most delicious-sounding crackle as it cools. (The loaf pictured here was prepared in a cold Dutch oven.)

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