Monday, March 5, 2007

No-Knead Bread Adventures

**Edited on 4/15**

I, like everyone else in the food blogosphere, have tried Jim Lahey's no-knead bread recipe. It's pretty cool that you can make a fairly tasty bread without the work and without buying any extra gadgets to do it.

For those who don't already know, here is the original recipe:

Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
1 1/2 c water
cornmeal or wheat bran as needed

  1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 1/2 cups water, and stir until blended; 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.
  2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it 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.
  3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape 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 ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
  4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 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 O.K. 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.
Now I'm experimenting with the recipe. I thought I'd share my combinations, trials and errors here. But before I do, here is a funny email I got from Stavra as we were discussing breads and caramels.

**A couple of weeks ago on a Saturday I was making lunch. I had gone to Straub’s the day before and gotten sliced roast beef for sandwiches, as I always do when I’m there, because they have the absolute best I’ve ever had. It’s perfectly rare, and is, well, actual roast beef, not “lunchmeat roast beef.” Also, I had some day-old No-Knead Bread that I’d made. So, I make myself a roast beef sandwich with the fantastic roast beef, the leftover super-yummy bread, some of this special spicy mayonnaise that I can only find in New Orleans or in Houston and otherwise have to special order (which I had just done; I got three jars—if you’d like to try some, I’d be happy to pass a jar on to you), lettuce, organic Colby, fresh ground pepper, and a sprinkling of real fleur de sel on top. So I have just finished constructing this masterpiece, and I’m sooo looking forward to it, as it’s my favorite sandwich and I don’t often have that roast beef on hand, and Steve walks into the kitchen. I should mention at this point that, as it turns out, I had PMS on this occasion. This will probably become clear in a moment. So, Steve walks in, looks at the sandwich on the plate in my hand as I’m walking out of the kitchen, and says, “Wow, that’s a hearty sandwich.” At which point, I gasp, and say, “It’s just because the bread is homemade, and you can’t slice it thin, so it looks gigantic, and there’s lettuce, and IT’S NOT THAT BIG!! I just—oh, forget it, here, YOU EAT IT! I DON’T EVEN WANT IT ANYMORE! YOU’VE RUINED IT FOR ME AND I WOUDN’T ENJOY IT ANYWAY.” Steve, I can’t imagine why, just stands there, baffled, with his jaw hanging open. I shove the plate in his hand, turn on my heel, and stalk out of the kitchen. He eats the sandwich in the kitchen, and tiptoes around me for the rest of the day. A couple of days later, after my period has started and my sanity’s returned home from its short vacation, I said to him, “Okay, I’m really sorry I lost my mind about the sandwich. I know you didn’t mean anything by it, but, you know, I just don’t think most girls want to hear that their sandwich is ‘hearty.’ At least most PMS-y girls. To me, what I heard was, ‘Jesus, that is one gigantic sandwich, you horrible cow.’” To which Steve of course responded, “But I—that’s not—I didn’t—“ And I reassured him that I know that’s not what he meant, but that’s what my hormone-addled brain heard. He nods his head and walks out of the room to take a shower and no doubt ponder the wisdom of letting women run for office, vote, and drive cars, and then he pops his head back in and says, “By the way, I just have to tell you—that was the most incredible sandwich I’ve ever eaten in my life. I wanted to tell you then, but I was afraid to talk to you. The whole time I was eating it, I kept thinking, ‘Man, she even makes better sandwiches!’” At which point I burst out laughing. We realized sandwiches were probably one of the few things that he really makes for himself. Because to me that was a fairly standard sandwich, one that I eat with some regularity, but it had never occurred to me to make him one, because if I’m making it it’s usually on a weekend and we’re just fending for ourselves and not necessarily eating at the same time. But I think it was one of the best food compliments I’ve ever gotten. And I’ll probably have to make his sandwiches from now on. **

That made me laugh so hard I had to share. Now, back to the bread making.

At Stavra's recommendation I increased the salt to 1 tablespoon in the original recipe. I used flour on tea towels for the last rise and had used an 8 inch base cast iron dutch oven for the cooking. This came out perfect.

My second loaf was a double batch. I increased the pan size to my 8 quart cast iron/enamal dutch oven. That was the most glorious, gigantic loaf of golden brown bread I had ever seen. It was just the right height at about 5 inches in the middle and a big round foot across. I was incedibly pleased, not only that the recipe worked twice, but worked doubled without increasing any part of it. The freinds I was feeding with it also thought it was quite nice.

Third was an Italian loaf. I substituted three tablespoons of the water with the same amount of fresh pesto. Oh, boy, was that heavenly. It was a little bit lower rise loaf. Part of the problem here I think may have come from pan size. I was using my sister's dutch oven and it is considerably wider than mine at the base. Next time I'll increase the yeast by heaping the original measurement or use my own cast iron.

At the same time, I tried a gluten-free loaf. For that I doubled the yeast and added a pinch more salt. It ended up more crumbly, more like corn bread only not falling apart. It held it's shape, held up to cutting and spreading nicely. I did this one for Mom to try. She is seeing a man that has restricted diet so I thought it would be fun to try. I used Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour. It is a mixture of garbanzo flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, sorghum flour and fava flour. The flavor was ok. I think it could have used more salt and still a bit more yeast and, oh, I don't know, some wheat much for gluten free...

Now, the last loaf I tried was a rye. I split the flour half white and half rye. I increased the salt to heaping and the yeast to heaping. This loaf came out sweater than I thought it would but had that nice sharp rye flavor too. Great texture. I think if I do this one again (who am I kidding, there's nothing better than a patty melt on fresh baked bread) I'll do all rye flour, a tablespoon of cocoa for the darker coloring, double the yeast and keep the salt at heaping.

It's weird, the things that make me tick. When I was growing up, we, Mom, sis and me, made bread every Sunday. Usually it was Mom making with us watching, but sometimes we would help and as we got older, we were able to do more. We learned the right textures for when the mixing was done and when it was kneaded just right. I can't remember a Sunday that didn't include baking bread for the week. When I moved into my own place, just a couple of years down the line, I tried making bread on my own. I failed....miserably... It was like I had never seen a homemade loaf. I couldn't get it to work right no matter how hard I tried. I ended up with rocks, blobs, and giant balls of light brown air but nothing that remebled that sweet, white roll of golden bread fresh from the oven. You know the one. It has the light glaze of melted butter glistening on the top. I just couldn't get there. Then one day I baked some bread and it was all fine again. I hadn't changed recipes. I don't know what happened. There was just this 8 year period when I couldn't make bread. I'm think I'll blame it on my first husband. Since I never changed recipes and can't recall changing methods, that's the only thing I can think of that changed during that time. I think he was just bad bread luck...along with bad most other stuff luck, too.

Anyway, now I remember how to bake bread. It came back to me about 9 years ago and hasn't gone anywhere again. I was very hesitant to try the no-knead bread. After 8 years of misery, the last thing I needed was to start crying over failed bread again. Also, I truly enjoy the amount of work it takes to make a fine loaf of bread. To me, it makes what I eat taste that much better to know that I put energy, love and even sweat into it. So this easy to do, no work bread put me off at first. I tried it because I had a weekend with little time and a need for bread (no pun intended). I have to say, it did fill that gap. I spent about 10 minutes total working on it and had a fine loaf afterwards. I don't know that I would ever switch permanently but when I'm running up against a social deadline, it'll do just fine.

More to come as I experiment. Maybe sometime in the future I'll even remember to get my camera out and add some pics to this.

Go bake something.....

1 comment:

Stavra said...

Okay, you know, I actually lived that and it still makes me giggle. And still, the best food compliment ever. Glad to see you posting again! Can't wait till you're settled and we can get some regular updates.