Tuesday, February 26, 2013

No Knead Bread

I swore I wouldn't be one of those women who, once they give birth, post about their children or the demands of motherhood on what was once a food blog. But that was before. That was before I became a mother. That was before I knew what a miracle it could be to care for an infant and get something into the oven and then back out of the oven at the appropriate time. That was before I found myself hunt-and-peck typing with one hand while the other kept a sleeping six-week old from sliding off my lap. Yeah, that was before. So, file this one under "things you can bake when your newborn won't let you put him down for more than ten minutes at a stretch". 

I started baking no knead bread when A. was four weeks old. I started baking it because one, I was no longer able to pick up staffed loaves of Red Hen bread from work and two, I had to do something in the kitchen. No knead bread is the perfect postpartum bake for several reasons. First of all, it makes you feel like you've accomplished something in the otherwise endless cycle of breast feeding and diaper changing. You might not have showered or had a chance to make the bed, but you baked bread! Two, it is incredibly forgiving. The initial fermentation time can vary from 12 to 18 hours and I've stretched it to over 20 with no harm done. And if your loaf has gone over its two hour rising time before you could preheat the pot in the oven, punch it down, reform it and let it rise again. Your bread might be a little denser than usual, but it will not be ruined. Thirdly, the active cooking time, which is spread over two days, is minimal. Mixing the dough: three minutes; turning the dough out to rest: one minute; forming the loaf and setting it to rise: two minutes tops. Then there's just the thirty seconds to plop the loaf in the pot and get it in the oven and thirty minutes later another half minute to remove the lid. Finally, twenty minutes later you'll have to spend maybe, on the outside, an entire sixty seconds removing the pot from the oven and the beautiful finished loaf from the pot. That makes fewer than ten minutes of active cooking time and even the neediest babe has enough patience for that. 

The original recipe calls simply for unbleached white bread flour. I've been using two thirds white bread flour and one third whole wheat bread flour and I think I like it better. I see no reason not to experiment with some rye flour, or possibly adding walnuts. Today I used high gluten flour and made my prettiest loaf to date. I am happy to report that it tastes as good as it looks. It has the tangy sourdough quality this bread always does, a nice crust and a springy, moist interior. I'm guessing here--I'm no food scientist--but I think the high gluten flour helped the loaf maintain its structure through the rise and pot plop better than regular bread flour. In any event, this is a tasty, hassle free bread recipe for those with or without the time for a good, long knead.

No Knead Bread

Adapted from Jim Lahey's recipe

  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat bread flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. instant yeast
  • 1 5/8 cups water
  • Mix together the flours, salt, and yeast. Add water and stir until well combined. The mixture will be much looser than most bread doughs. Cover mixture with plastic wrap and leave in a warm (70°F or so) place for 12-18 hours, preferably closer to 18.
  • After 12-18 hours, the surface of the dough should be covered in bubbles. Flour a work surface and turn the dough out. Coat your hands with flour and fold the dough over itself a few times. Cover with the plastic wrap and leave for 15 minutes.
  • Coat a cotton towel generously with flour. Using enough flour so the dough doesn't stick to anything, form it into a ball and place seam side down on the towel. Dust the top with more flour and cover with another towel. Leave to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until when the loaf is poked it doesn't bounce back too quickly.
  • Place a large cast iron pot (6-8 quart) with its lid in the oven. Preaheat oven and pot to 450°F about half an hour before the rise time is up. Uncover the loaf and using the bottom towel to support it, plop it into the pot. Now it will be seam side up. If necessary give the pot a shake to better position the dough, but don't get carried away. Place the lid over the pot and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes remove the lid and bake an additional 15-20 minutes, until nicely browned. Remove from pot and allow to cool on a rack. Once cool, remove excess flour with a brush.

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