Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Winter Insulation

Can you believe that this gorgeous thing came from my own little oven?! I hardly can. And when I brought two loaves to a Thanksgiving gathering last month, it was mistaken for Zingerman’s bread. I’ll take that as a sign of success; my first after a long history of stumpy, leaden loaves that cost me hours of patience with minimal reward. I know many of you must feel the same about slaving in the kitchen to produce home baked bread—after all, that’s how Zingerman’s, Panera, and all the others stay in business!

While reporting on a story for Edible WOW magazine, I became acquainted with fellow Ann Arbor foodie Jeff McCabe. Not only was I treated to a fabulous sampling of his home-cured charcuterie, he also shared with me a ridiculously simple method of baking bread. No kneading required. No fancy equipment. No meticulous supervision translating into hours standing vigil by a bowl of dough.

This method is no secret, really. The New York Times did an article about the No Knead Dutch Oven method in 2006. So maybe I’m behind the curve—I don’t care—it’s worth admitting because this bread is just so damn good. It’s got that perfectly browned, hard crust, plenty of air in the crumb, and a lovely flavor that deceives the taster into thinking some kind of starter must have been involved.

Several factors come together to make this bread what it is. First, the time line between mixing the dough and eating a hot slice is nearly 24 hours, so there is plenty of time for the dough to proof, developing a richer flavor than anything a three-hour cycle in your bread machine could ever produce.

Second, the bread is baked in a very hot oven, inside a pre-heated cast iron Dutch oven with a lid for the first thirty minutes of baking time. Contained in the Dutch oven, steam creates that desirable crust; the calling card of artisan breads.

Third, this bread rocks because the time line is perfect for someone that has a life outside of their kitchen. Also, there are several similar recipes out there, containing various flours, beer, vinegar, etc. After testing several, this one topped my list because there are only four ingredients; flour, salt, yeast, water. So if you have the hankering, these ingredients are (almost) certain to be on hand, requiring no advanced planning.

Now is the perfect time for home-baked bread. Picture it with pots of soup, simply roasted vegetables, winter salads, or sopping up the rich, winey sauce of a good bœuf bourguignon. But seriously—don’t just picture it—make it.

No Knead Bread (recipe taken from NY Times, November 2006)

3 cups flour (plus more for dusting)
¼ tsp yeast
1 ¼ tsp salt
1 ½ cups water

Cornmeal or wheat bran for dusting (I use cornmeal)
1. In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast and salt.
2. Add water, stir until blended. The dough will be shaggy and very sticky—way too
sticky to handle.
3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest for 12-18 hours at room
4. After 12-18 hours, the dough’s surface will be dotted with bubbles and look
quite wet. Lightly flour a work surface and turn out dough onto surface. Gently
shape dough into a ball (Tip: fold it over a few times to make this shape,
rather than rolling it or kneading it into a ball). Generously coat a cotton
dishtowel with flour or cornmeal (I like to use a bit of both) and place dough
seam-side down on the towel. Dust again and cover with another towel. Let rise
for another 2 hours (Dough will grow to double in size and firm up)
5. ½ hour before baking, preheat oven to 475° F. Heat Dutch oven in the oven as it preheats, then carefully remove. Carefully place dough in pot, seam-side up.
Jiggle pan to distribute dough if needed. Bake 30 minutes with the lid on, then remove lid and bake another 15-30 minutes until done and browned. Turn out onto rack to cool.


Jen of A2eatwrite said...

I've tried the other Times no-knead bread recipe, but it's not nearly as nice (or delicious-sounding) as yours. I may have to try it. The dutch oven hot out of the oven stage spooked me.

A.B. said...

I am trying to overcome my fears of super-hot pots and pans as well, especially since I seem to burn myself all the time. The bread is worth it.

Anonymous said...

Flour, water and yeast. Very much in line with the Reinheitsgebot of 1516...

TKN said...

in your photo you obviously have your bread nestled in parchment paper, yet you don't mention that in your directions......I know there is huge variety of ways to make this bread, just wondering if you used the paper or not?

Anonymous said...

I need to try this method. I made a recipe from the Bread Maker's Apprentice over the weekend and it was like 20 steps, took 2 days, and didn't even turn out that well- the dough refused to rise in the final proofing stage. A bit of a disappointment after so much effort!

A.B. said...

To answer the parchment question: I used it the first time only, then went without since then. My assessment is that the parchment is totally unnecessary- keeps the bottom of the pot cleaner but tends to get stuck in little crevices in the bread.

Mademoiselle, good luck on your next bread-baking venture. Hard culinary work should always have a reward. I say if the bread doesn't turn out, just have a nice stiff drink- or three. You'll forget all about it.

Maggie said...

I love the no-knead recipe. I made a bunch of loaves this summer with rye. The book the recipe comes from is really worth getting, it's called "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day".

Shana said...

Yes, great Ann Arbor foodie minds think alike ;) . Your picture is lovely.