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Loafing, Again

I did it.  I finally baked a loaf of No-Knead Bread.

I’ve heard aboiut this stuff for a long time.  Everybody’s doing it – Jim Lehey is doing it.  Peter Reinhart is doing it.  Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois are doing it in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.   And Luigi Pomi is doing it.  And got me to do it, too.

I’ve been baking bread for a really long time.  38 or so years ago I was baking bread on an aircraft carrier.  Thousands and thousands of loaves of bread.

Sometimes I just slept on top of the bags of flour and sugar.  And yes, once upon a time I was skinny.  But I digress.

I’ve made lots of bread.

I’ve pretty much resisted making no-knead bread because ANYTHING that says “whatever in 5 minutes a day” is evil in my book.  One of the biggest problems with society today – in my not so humble opinion – is NOT taking the time to do something.  Especially cooking.

So it was with more than just a bit of trepidation that I decided to do this.  Luigi hasn’t steered me wrong, yet.

The recipe comes from a blog called The Italian Dish.  The recipe is verbatim from the blog:

No Knead Artisan Bread

adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

makes four 1 pound loaves.

3 cups lukewarm water
1-1/2 tablespoons granulated fast acting yeast (2 packets)
1-1/2 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
6-1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached all purpose white flour

Mixing and Storing the Dough

1.  Warm the water slightly. It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100 degrees F. Warm water will rise the dough to the right point for storage in about 2 hours.

2.  Add yeast and salt to the water in a 5 quart bowl or a plastic container with a lid.

3.  Mix in the flour – kneading is unnecessary.  Add all of the flour at once, measuring the flour by scooping it and leveling it off with a knife.  Mix with a wooden spoon – do not knead.  You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches.  This step is done in a matter of minutes.  The dough should be wet and loose.

4.  Allow to rise. Cover with a lid (not airtight).  Lidded plastic buckets designed for dough storage can be purchased many places.  (I used a plastic square food storage container at my local grocery store.  I just make sure that the lid is not snapped on completely).  You want the gases to be able to escape a little.  Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on top), about two hours. Longer rising times will not hurt your dough.  You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period. Fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and is easier to work with than dough at room temperature.  So, the first time you try this method, it’s best to refrigerate the dough overnight (or at least 3 hours) before shaping a loaf.

Baking

5. Shape your loaf. Place a piece of baking parchment paper on a pizza peel (don’t have a pizza peel – use an unrimmed baking sheet or turn a rimmed baking sheet upside down).   Sprinkle the surface of your dough in the container with flour.  Pull up and cut off about a 1-pound piece of dough (about the size of a grapefruit), using scissors or a serrated knife.  Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball as you go.  Dust your hands with flour if you need to.  This is just to prevent sticking – you don’t want to incorporate the flour into the dough.  The top of the dough should be smooth – the object here is to create a “gluten cloak” or “surface tension”.  It doesn’t matter what the bottom looks like, but you need to have a smooth, tight top.  This whole step should take about 30 seconds!  Place the dough onto your parchment paper.

6. Let the loaf rise for about 40 minutes (it does not need to be covered).  If it doesn’t look like it has risen much, don’t worry – it will in the oven.  This is called “oven spring”.

7.  Preheat a baking stone on the middle rack in the oven for at least 20 minutes at 450 degrees F.  Place an empty rimmed baking pan or broiler pan on a rack below the baking stone.  This pan is for holding water for steam in the baking step.  (If you don’t have a baking stone, you can use a baking sheet, but you will not get the crisp crust on the bottom.  You will still have a great loaf of bread.  Baking stones are cheap and easy to find – Target carries them – and are a must for making pizzas, so go out and get one as soon as you can.)

8. Dust the loaf with a little flour and slash the top with a knife.  This slashing is necessary to release some of the trapped gas, which can deform your bread.  It also makes the top of your bread look pretty – you can slash the bread in a tic tac toe pattern, a cross, or just parallel slashes.  You need a very sharp knife or a razor blade – you don’t want the blade to drag across the dough and pull it.  As the bread bakes, this area opens and is known as “the bloom”.  Remember to score the loaves right before baking.

9. Bake. Set a cup of water next to your oven.  Slide the bread (including the parchment paper) right onto the hot baking stone.  Quickly pour the water right into the pan underneath the baking stone and close the oven door.  This creates the necessary steam  to make a nice crisp crust on the bread.  Bake at 450 F for about 25 – 30 minutes.  When you remove the loaf from the oven, you will hear it crackle for a while.  In baking terms, this is called “sing” and it is exactly what you want.

10.  Cool. Allow the bread to cool for the best flavor and texture.  It’s tempting to eat it when it’s warm, and that’s fine, but the texture is better after the bread has cooled.

11.  Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator in your lidded (not airtight) container and use for up to 14 days. Every day your bread will improve in flavor.  Cut off and shape more loaves as you need them.  When your dough is gone, don’t clean the container.  Go ahead and mix another batch – the remaining bits of dough will contribute flavor to the next batch, much like a sourdough starter does!

tip:  If you are using King Arthur All Purpose Flour, I would use slightly less water (about 1/4 cup) than the recipe calls for.  King Arthur AP Flour is higher protein flour than regular AP Flour, like Gold Medal or Pillsbury.

The dough is reminiscent of an Italian Biga – a starter.  Same wet texture, although a biga is added for flavor and texture to more flour and liquid – and kneadedkneadedkneaded.

The bread came out pretty good.  The hardest part for me was forming a proper loaf.  I’ve made plenty of loose-dough breads before, but this one is a bit different.  Very sticky.  My hands aren’t used to it.  It doesn’t feel right.  But although it wasn’t the most perfect loaf I’ve ever made, it was good.

The crust, in fact, is excellent.  It’s that nice, shiny, crackly crust ya get by spritzing and steaming a traditional loaf.  The crumb was good but it’s going to take just a bit of getting used to for me.  It’s very chewy.  Not exactly but almost a bit gummy.  Not a bad chewy or gummy, but just a  bit different than what I’ve been baking recently.

The flavor is really good, though, and I can only imagine how much better it will become as it sours a bit in the fridge.

I don’t know about the 5 minutes a day, stuff, but I can have a loaf baked in an hour.

It’s not going to replace my other bread baking, but I have a feeling we’ll have even more fresh bread on the table than we do now – and we have a lot now!

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2 Comments

  • avatar image
    Max
    March 2, 2010

    Hi Tim, Dorrie has been telling my of your culinary prowess and pointed me towards your foodie codifications. I would write this on down, but there's "no need". As I now have internet in my kitchen, I will try this bread as my first plugged in lesson. I wonder is bread dough wipes off a monitor easily? I look forward to meeting you and Victor sometime. Until then, Bon appetite !

  • avatar image
    Tim
    March 2, 2010

    Just let it dry and it scrapes off easily... :) Have fun - and enjoy the recipes.

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