Monday, December 07, 2009

No Knead Bread

In the past bread, and most baking in general, certainly the esoteric world of pastries, has been the exclusive domain of my lovely wife. It's not that I can't bake things, it's just that I don't get quite the same giddy thrill out of it.

Nope, I'm pragmatic when it comes to baking. Get it in, get it out, quick and easy with minimum fuss. Recently though, due to her becoming a productive member of society, the weekly bread loaves were slipping. So I stepped in and took charge of bread. Because well, what else have I got to do. Talking to the cat is getting old.

As I was saying, bread is pain in the neck and I hate making it. All that kneading, and sticky dough fingers. Bah. So I started experimenting with so-called 'No Knead' bread. The basic idea is that rather than kneading and rising and folding and rolling, you let the yeast do the work for you, albeit over a longer time-frame. The gluten necessary for soft springy bread develops naturally, rather than through your kneady efforts. Then you use the magic of a scorching hot dutch oven to keep it from drying excessively and to ensure a crunchy awesome crust.

Here's the recipe as I have been making it for the last few weeks. This has become our house bread. It's great for sandwiches and for soups. It costs maybe a buck to make. It takes about 3 minutes of actual work. Get a pen and paper ready, it's incredibly complicated.
  • 22 ounces of bread flour
  • 1 T kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp dry yeast
  • 16 ounces of warm water
That's it. Seriously, bread is easy. Mix the flour, salt and yeast in a big bowl. Add the water. Stir around with a spoon until it comes together and most of the flour is absorbed. Done. Stop. No more mixing. Cover up with plastic wrap or something to keep it from drying out too much. I use my largest pyrex bowl (4 qt) which as a matching lid.

Now we play the waiting game. Let this sit somewhere reasonably warm for 19 hours. Yep 19 hours. Or 18, or 20, it doesn't really matter too much. I wouldn't go for say, three days. (Though I might do that soon just as an experiment...) During this time the yeast will rise the dough and glutens will develop. It will look like gross bread soup.

Flour up a counter or cutting board. Use your hands to pull the dough out, it should be sticky but will stick to itself more than to you. Fold it over on itself a few times and try to punch the dough down and press out the air. Cover with a towel and leave 15 minutes. Then get a bowl that will hold roughly twice the dough's size, lay a kitchen towel in it. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of corn meal on the towel. Shape the dough into a ball, drop it in the towelled bowl, and sprinkle another tablespoon of corn meal on top. Then fold the ends of the towel to cover it and set it somewhere warm to rise another 2-3 hours.

About half an hour before it's done, set the oven to 450 and stick your dutch oven inside. I have an enameled cast-iron one. I suppose you could just use a baking sheet and a pan of water in the oven, but I haven't tried it with this dough. When both ovens are hot, take the dutch oven out and take the lid off. Using the towel, carefully drop the dough into the dutch oven. Slap the lid on and stick it the oven. 30 minutes with the lid on, then take it off and go another 15 minutes without the lid.

Your bread will be golden brown and delicious. And it was foolproof, quick and made very little mess.

One thing I have also done that worked out well was add herbs. A handful of chopped rosemary went in a couple loaves back, and it was delicious. Just add right at the beginning, when you're mixing everything.

A couple months ago we tried making a sourdough starter. We got about two loaves out of it before it went horribly, horribly wrong. To the point where I kicked it outside to make it think about what it had done. And had to wash it out with the hose. Seriously, how can flour and water make that kind of smell!?! But if you've got a good starter, you could add a scoop rather than the yeast and this would make awesome sourdough bread.

Finally a word on scheduling. This bread takes about 24 hours to make. In terms of actual work time it takes about 3 minutes, but there's lots of resting. So I start it in the afternoon, so it's ready to be folded and re-risen the next morning, then baked and ready by dinner.

Now it's time to go make a sandwich, with some of the leftover sous vide turkey breast...


becca said...

Awesome, Russ! Bill and I have been using the methods described in "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" which has produced some very stellar bread. We haven't bought bread in months and we love it. We'll have to give your method a try soon!

Russell Hews Everett said...

Good luck, I've been pretty happy with this. It's scalable too, so you can easily make a smaller loaf with say, 16 ounces of flour, 11 ounces of water, 2 t salt and a bit less yeast.

Chloe said...

I made it. It rocked. Oh so easy. I am going to try to make it into individual serving size rolls next, or add some whole wheat bread flour.

Russell Hews Everett said...

I've used up to 8oz of whole wheat flour so far and it has worked out quite well, not tried it with 100% whole wheat though. I've never tried rolls this way, but the more I think about it the more brilliant that would be if it worked. Think I may give it a run too...let me know how it works out if you try it.

Russell Hews Everett said...

Ugh. Tried rolls. Faiure. Edible, but failure. made and raised little mini-loaves on a cookie sheet. Put a cupcake pan in and heated it at 450. Dropped rolls into the cups. Baked. They poofed, but were oddly shaped and more importantly they were too crusty. Edible, and once soaked in soup quite ok, but too crusty.

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