Friday, January 23, 2009

Bread, and no-knead

I recently re-discovered in my recipe stash Mark Bittman's directions for no-knead bread, which apparently was quite the talk of the (foodie end of the) internet for a while. So a couple of years after printing off the directions I managed to get around to making it. Basically, 3 cups of flour, a tiny amount of yeast (1/4 teaspoon), water, and salt and let the mixture sit for a day, turn it out, shape minimally, let rise again, then dump in a smoking hot (450 F) preheated covered pot, bake for thirty minutes, remove cover, and finish baking.

So, notes- the dough is wet, really, really wet. I first made this on a moderately humid (+/- 20%) Southwestern winter day and it was still wet. The whole bit of forming the loaf didn't go nearly as smoothly (no pun intended) as I would have liked. Also, given that the interior of my house won't reach 70 F., the temperature recommended for the first rise, for a couple of months, I let the dough go twenty-four hours before handling. That was about the right time period, as witnessed by the texture of the dough and wealth of bubbles on its surface as I turned it out after the initial rise.

My 10 inch camp oven is a little big and so the loaf came out a bit flat. Upon tasting, I found the bread a bit bland (and I don't usually salt heavily). Increasing the salt to 2 1/2 teaspoons from the recommended 1/2 teaspoon didn't hurt subsequent loaves rising and improved the flavor considerably.

The wheat germ I used to keep the dough from sticking to the towel also ended up in the loaf, as the dough folded over on itself as I put it in the really hot dutch oven. It was a bit unsightly running through the bread, so use flour if you want the interior to look a bit better.

Later, I tried making a loaf using a recipe and a half of dough. This resulted in a taller loaf, but the center didn't get quite as done as I would have preferred. That loaf could have gone a bit longer in the oven without over browning, though.

As a technique for baking, a covered pot really makes a difference. I took another favorite bread recipe for the bread machine and, after the machine had worked the dough through the first rise, conducted the second rise in a bowl and then dumped it into the preheated Dutch oven. Here's the loaf-

The dough not being as moist as the no-knead bread recipe, the crust wasn't as crisp, but it was much better than what the bread machine or my oven usually turns out. Of course, a covered baking dish for bread is nothing new, witness cloches. I'm sure they work well, but my camp oven is a lot more versatile and I've made loaves now in corning ware and other vessels. Covered and preheated seem to be the keys.

In the end, this is really good bread and well worth essaying on your part. I can't imagine a more accessible recipe (especially for folks unused to baking) that provides such a nice result for so little effort.

A last note, Jim Lahey, the baker who did a demo for the New York Times and provided them with a recipe has also adapted the recipe for pizza dough.


Steve Bodio said...

We just started no- knead baking from a different recipe,in a Dutch oven. Libby tweaked it to just about perfect-- I'll send.

mdmnm said...

Thanks, Steve!

I think the higher altitude and lower humidity require a bit of adjustment from the NYC recipe, so I look forward to trying yours.

Finspot said...

I like the face in that loaf!

Trout Caviar said...

That looks like an honest loaf, mdmnm. I've been skeptical of the no-knead recipe, feeling that it actually makes kneaded bread seem more difficult to make than it is.

But then, for my home-based farmers' market bread business, I've probably made over 10,000 loaves in the last six years, all by hand. I don't mind kneading bread, and I've found that very few doughs need more than a few minutes kneading. I'm working on a "nearly-no-knead" recipe. I hope to get it up on my blog soon, and I hope you'll try it and let me know what you think. (There are actually bread recipes there right now, but fairly involved ones.)

Thanks for sharing your bread adventures, and all the other good stuff.


mdmnm said...

Finspot- I hadn't noticed that until you pointed it out!


I look forward to trying your nearly no-knead recipe and I'll check out the other recipes you have up. Thanks!

I don't really mind kneading, either, and made sourdough pretty regularly for a couple of years (maybe 1% of your output). But then I let my starter get infected and haven't gotten back into it. I haven't achieved as nice a texture for a rustic loaf (the picture of the sliced loaf isn't that representative of what I'm getting now, most have had larger air pockets) as with no-knead. Giving the first rise 24 hours is also a pretty nice rhythm- start one evening, bake the next, eat for breakfast and dinner. That said, the biggest revelation to me has been the benefit of baking in the preheated dutch oven.