Tuesday, January 22, 2008

No-Knead Bread

The COG found a recipe for No-Knead Bread and tried it. It was from Cook's Illustrated- a supposedly superior (and more complicated) recipe. Coincidentally, the very same day, I found a reference to the original version, which was by Mark Bittman of the NYTimes and which was much simpler. My original thought was that it was fun, but not that useful. However, after reading about it, I decided it was worthwhile. And I've been making it ever since.

The important point is: this isn't about saving work (I can use the bread maker or my mixer to make dough, if I don't want to knead), this is about the science of bread making. The small amount of yeast and the long long slow rising - nearly 24 hours by the time it's done - actually changes the character of the bread, creating a lovely, crusty, loaf with wonderful texture. It's divine. Try it. It could be made by a 6 year old - it's that simple.

No-Knead Bread
3 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon yeast
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 5/8 cups water

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 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.

Yield: 1 1/2 pound loaf


Vivi said...

They published this recipe in the Oregonian last March, and I made the bread a couple of times -- then moved on to the organic-grape-starter one that you recommended. And forgot about this one. It is dead easy, isn't it? I've just started a loaf in 5 minutes, using 1 cup of whole wheat flour to 2 of bread flour.

In the Oregonian, they discussed how the relatively large amount of salt was necessary to get it to rise in the way it does. -- That is, the recipe they published was identical except it calls for 2-1/2 teaspoons of coarse salt rather than 1-1/4 teaspoons of (presumably table) salt.

Where are you finding -- how are you managing room temperature 70°? Our house temperature is colder than that when we're heating it. I wish we had radiators -- that would work.

The Bride said...

Ahhh the warm place to rise.

What I do is turn the oven on for just a few minutes to make it warm, then turn it off and put the bread in it overnight.

Alternatively, if it's sunny, we put it in a patch of sunlight to rise.

It will rise in a cooler place - even in the fridge, but it will take longer.

btw, the salt affects the rising of the yeast, making it slower to rise. The slow rising of this recipe is key because it gives the gluten time to do whatever it is that gluten does and .... Oh heck, I don't know, but the slow rise is the thing that makes the bread crisp and good tasting. I'm trying it right now with no yeast at all, just starter.

I'm going to try it next with the 2 1/2 tsp. sea salt, which is presumably what they mean by coarse salt. Or maybe they mean Kosher salt, which is not as salty as regular salt.

I'm curious how the whole wheat works. Is that your innovation?

Vivi said...

Thanks for the salt explanation -- I knew it was something to do with the rising, but not what. My sense, with no specific memory why is that "coarse salt" was "kosher salt", but it would be interesting to compare.

The whole wheat was suggested in the Oregonian article, "not more than half the flour" or it would be too heavy to rise. They also suggested folding in fresh herbs at the folding stage. I'm not doing the herbs today because it would guarantee the children wouldn't try the bread (those green flecks might be the adults' form of poison, and in any case will taste "disgusting").

The oven -- that's exactly what I did, and then this morning I warmed it up again to 150, then turned it off and put in the dough with the door open. I have read that the longer it takes to rise (without over-rising) the better the flavor of the bread.

I'll send the recipe (not for the ingredients but for the introduction) in email and post photos later.

David Briggs said...

According to a recent Alton Brown "Good Eats" episode (Dr. Strangeloaf), the longer rising allows the flavors to meld together better, and the salt would slow down the rising. One trick that Alton does (with kneaded bread) is to mix it together in two batches. Part one includes all of the water, a fraction of the flour, part of the yeast and the honey; mix that together and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Then take that mixture and combine it with the rest of the flour, the rest of the yeast and all of the salt. I've made neither, but he seems to be able to make some good bread.

Ohh, and one additional trick that he does is to place a pan of hot water (he took his water from a tea kettle) into the oven with the bread, both while letting it rise, as well as while cooking.


Mister Celllophane

Vivi said...

Interesting about Salt and slow rising and flavor. There's no way I will ever do a double batch and join them, however -- I have too many tasty loaves that are as much work as I want to do.

Bride: How did you bake the loaf in the oval shape? The recipe calls for cooking in a dutch oven, which yields a round loaf. Did you use a wossname -- a pizza stone thingy? Or use a loaf pan? You didn't find that it over-browned the top?

David Briggs said...

One thing that I forgot about the episode is that he usually bakes his bread on the upside-down drip pan of a big flower pot, his was made in Italy, but I'm sure that you could find one made in the USA if you were interested.

On another forgotten point, the reason why he adds water is so that the top of the bread doesn't dry out while baking, which means that it can expand.

Mister Cellophane

The Bride said...


I have a stoneware baking pan which has a cover and a bottom, and I use it exactly as you use the dutch oven - preheating and then cooking covered for the first half of cooking.

My family actually prefers it round, though it's easier to cut like this. So I'm back to using the dutch oven.

Dave - I saw that Alton Brown episode and that bread did look good.