12 April 2011

A lovely loaf.

I still find it hard to believe that I can make this gorgeous bread. See the photo below? I made it last weekend. And it is incredibly easy.


It looks just like those rustic loaves with French names that you buy in good bakeries. Except . . . a bakery-loaf won't fill your house with the aroma of fresh baked bread. You won't get to hear the crack - crack - crack as the loaf cools on your counter. You won't get to cut it while it is still warm enough to melt butter. Your first bite of this bread is all crunchy noise followed by good solid chewiness and then a sinking into the creamy center. My eyes glaze over just thinking about it.

Well. I like bread. I get a little goofy over it.

The bread in the photo may look showy, but it doesn't have a fancy name. I have stood at the counter at a bakery in Boulder and read the list of proffered breads, confused by the myriad names. Which one do I want? How do I pronounce it? Nope, this recipe is titled simply "basic no-knead bread". I got the recipe from a class I took on no-knead breads at the Culinary School of the Rockies last year.

I was no novice to no-knead breads when I took the class. Several years ago I came across and tried a recipe in a King Arthur Flour catalog on a no-knead bread, and then I found some recipes in online articles. I bought a book on no-kneads too. I had a few successes, a few failures over the years. I gotta hand it to the Culinary School: That class brought it all together so that I can now make a beautiful loaf each time I try.

The trick to this bread is not in the mixing, but in the oven. You have to get your oven hot, very hot. 475 degrees Fahrenheit. You have to use a lidded crockery pot. You have to heat the lidded crockery pot in the very hot oven for a half hour. The noisy oven fan will be on. Your kitchen will be hot. You have to open the very hot oven and the very hot pot and drop in the dough and quickly close the pot. Without hurting yourself.

You then close the oven door and wait.

It's worth every hot moment.

If you are interested, follow the "more" link to find out exactly how I make this bread. Oh and another thing - you have to remember to start the bread the day before. Easier said than done!

The day before you want to eat this bread:

400 grams flour, or 3 cups (weight is preferred; see note below)
1 1/3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast

Mix the flour, water, salt, and yeast. Do this with a big spoon or use your mixer. Only mix until it is one huge glob and no bits of dry flour show.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit on the kitchen counter until the next day. It will grow and get all bubbly, and smell yeasty and a little sour.

About 2 hours before you want the bread done, put a clean dish towel on your counter and put a generous amount of regular flour on the towel. Use a lot of flour because you don't want the dough to stick. Wash your hands.

Uncover the bowl of dough. Dump about a third of a cup of semolina flour or regular flour on the top of the dough in the bowl, then scrape the dough away from the sides of the bowl, letting the semolina fall down the sides. This is all to help you transfer the glob of dough onto the towel that you put on the counter. The semolina is there to help you, to keep the dough from sticking to your hands. This is a wet, sticky dough. As much as you can, form it into a big oval glob on the prepared towel, tucking the rough spots underneath. Don't worry about it or try to make it look pretty. It will spread out like the blob it is. Dust with a little flour and cover it gently and loosely with a piece of plastic wrap.

Let it sit on the counter for about an hour and a half. It will grow and bubble a bit.

After it's sat for an hour, put the covered crockery pot in a cold oven and turn the oven to 475 degrees.

When the oven is hot and the loaf has sat for an hour and a half or so, you are ready to bake it. (I slash the top of the "loaf" with a sharp knife at this point.)

Get ready.

Open the oven and pull the oven rack out a little. Carefully and with good potholders, open the lid of the pot, tilting it away from you so that the hot steam does not rush into your face. Set the lid down on top of the stove. Gently lift the glob of dough off the towel and drop it quickly into the pot. Do not fuss with it, it isn't worth getting burned. Cover it with the hot lid and close the oven door. Walk away. It will work!

After 27 minutes, take the lid off the crockery pot and then let the bread bake 10 more minutes.

Take it out of the oven. It's done!

I'm always amazed that this works, from blob of dough to golden brown bread.

Baking dishes: I splurged on a crockery casserole from McGuckins in Boulder (the directions for this pot suggests a soaking in water before use). Previously I used the insert from my old electric crockpot; in class they used LeCreuset casseroles (with the plastic knob on top taken off). Covered cast iron pots work too.

Flour: Whenever I make bread, I include in the measured flour amount about 1/3 C of gluten flour (sold as "vital wheat gluten"). This is what makes yeast breads develop their chewy texture. I got into this habit in the times before I could find unbleached bread flour. Now, local markets carry King Arthur Unbleached bread flour. This unbleached bread flour works great in this no-knead recipe. Regular all-purpose flour will work too, I'm sure the difference would be minor.


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