Monday, November 13, 2006

no-knead bread

no-knead bread

While I know I’m not the first food blogger to post about the magical, no-knead bread of Jim Lahey at the Sullivan Street Bakery fame in the five whole days since The New York Times published the recipe, since I am the only one to do it one-handed, I believe I should win. (Also, please tell me you know I am joking.) But really, we all win because… Look, just make this bread, okay? It’s dense and chewy, but unbelievably moist. The crust is crisp but not leathery, you don’t need to gnash your teeth and injure your gums to get through it. The loaf rivals even the most exciting results of my fifteen hours of bread-baking classes, and aside from the part where Alex will be furious because I didn’t wait for him to get home and endangered myself lifting a 19-lb 450 degree pot out of the oven, it can totally be done one-handed.

holes like swiss cheese!

This is why the bread is so vastly superior to other loaves: one, it has a very wet, sticky dough. Yeast loves this; it’s the ideal environment for it to invade and multiply. But, breads this wet are nearly impossible to knead – it’s more like smearing dough across the counter, doable, but not very pleasant. Two, it uses very little yeast and less is always more in bread-making. Sure, a bread that requires nearly a tablespoon of yeast is super-speedy to make, but it doesn’t have as much time to develop all of the rich flavor and texture in a long-tenured rise. Finally, as Bittman notes in the article, the bread is a dream-come-true because that crazy step at the end – baking it in a covered Dutch oven, or a casserole dish if you don’t have one – creates a misty, humid environment like the one introduced in the early stages in a professional bread oven. This moisture keeps the bread chewy and delightful, and allows for a dreamy crust to form.

no-knead bread

And this is the part where I show you a way around the ingredient New York City ran out of faster than pumpkin puree the day before Thanksgiving: instant yeast. I had none, Fresh Direct had none, and rather than sending my already-overworked husband on a wild goose chase through our neighborhood grocery stores for it, I did a little Googling, finding none other that Rose Levy Berenbaum explaining what the big instant brouhaha is all about.

Instant yeast is also known as Rapid Rise, Bread Machine, SAF, QuickRise, Instant Active Dry, and Gourmet Perfect Rise. The process by which the instant yeast is dried and put into dormancy results in more live yeast cells when the yeast is activated, which means that you use only 3/4 the volume of active dry yeast. The goal here is reliability and ease, not speed. The yeast came about with the advent of bread machines, as proofing yeast in warm water would have been an extra step, and with a bread machine most people want to put everything in it at once and walk away, or even leave it overnight to wake up to freshly baked bread the next morning.

Did you catch that part about the3/4-volume? A little math, and we determined that 1/3 of a teaspoon of the active dry yeast we had in the fridge would be an ideal exchange — even better, it worked — so fret not if your store, too, is out of this suddenly-vaunted ingredient.

so darn good

“No-knead” bread, glorified elsewhere:

No-Knead Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey at the Sullivan Street Bakery via Mark Bittman at New York Times

Yields one 1 1/2 pound loaf

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 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°F. 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.


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