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Monday, February 20, 2012

no-knead bread for two

I love no-knead bread — Jim Lahey's recipe (published in 2006 in the New York Times) turned everyone into fabulous baker boys (and girls). not only is it outrageously easy, it's also beautiful and delicious with nothing more than the four essential bread ingredients (flour, water, yeast and salt). and talk about versatile! you can add all kinds of wonderful things to the dough (kalamata olives, roasted garlic, rosemary, sun-dried tomatoes, chunks of Italian cheese and salami — or go the sweet route, with dried cranberries and orange zest, cinnamon and raisins — you're pretty much limited only by your imagination), and/or you can make a few delicious variations on the crust (sprinkle it with a bit of sea salt, poppy and/or sesame seeds, grated parmesan, etc.). just don't add too much of anything, because you want to leave plenty of crust exposed to get wonderfully browned and crunchy. I've found the original recipe, which calls for three-cups-of-flour, makes a bit too much bread for two people, so I make a two-cup loaf with slightly altered proportions and baking times.

note: I know these instructions are long for such an easy recipe; I want to include all the tips/tricks I've learned along the way (including my ridiculous OCD-influenced clean-as-you-go habits). despite my verbiage, this is probably the easiest bread recipe you'll ever encounter, and the loaves you bake will be gorgeous, rustic beauties that make you wonder why you ever paid $5 or more for bread that's THIS easy. but you're not one of those chumps; you're a baker now!

  • 2 cups flour (King Arthur bread flour is the BEST, darn them to heck for not paying me to say that, but all-purpose flour works great, too)
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon filtered water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon yeast (it still takes the same amount of yeast, for some reason) (I heart Red Star yeast — there's an affiliate link below to buy it at Amazon, if you can't find it locally — it's about 10 times tastier and more reliable than Fleischman's)
mix the dough ingredients together. no need to knead (har); just mix it in a bowl with a wooden spoon or whatever you prefer, until it's sort of shaggy and the ingredients are reasonably distributed. it won't be smooth or perfect at this point, and that's fine. cover your bowl (I use a dinner plate; plastic wrap's fine, too). make sure your bowl's big enough to allow to dough to double in size!

now walk away from it and forget it for 12-18 hours — I like to make mine in the early evening, and then bake it first thing when I wake up. 

when it's time to bake:
  • remove the plate and beam down at your dough. it should have risen and will have some bubbles on the surface. sprinkle a little flour on the top and on your hands, and dig down in there to loosen the sides of the dough ball from the bowl. fold the dough over onto itself a couple of times.
  • wipe the plate free of condensation, set it on the counter and sprinkle it with some flour. tip the dough out onto the plate, and dust the top with yet more flour. put the bowl in the sink and fill with cold water to soak (you don't want to activate the gluten in the flour when you're cleaning out the bowl — it's a mess!).
  • get out your trusty Le Creuset casserole (or cast iron dutch oven; I've heard even Pyrex will work — just make sure it's big enough to hold your bread once it's expanded, made of thick material that will heat evenly, and that any knobs and/or handles it may have won't melt) and put it in the oven, lid and all. set the oven temperature to 450 ∘F and let it heat for 30 minutes.
  • in the meantime, form the dough into a boule (ball). do this by cupping your hands over the top of the dough, smoothing it down the sides and tucking it underneath. rotate the dough a little and repeat (keeping your hands/the boule lightly floured as needed to prevent sticking). after the first couple of rotations, turn the boule over and pinch the seam at the bottom together, but just do it ONE time — after that, don't worry about it. you're going to flip the boule upside-down when you bake it, and the seam will function as a slash would; allowing the dough to expand (plus the finished loaf will look all professional and artisanal and whatnot. trust me). shaping is KEY for this bread, IMO. some people say it doesn't matter, but the texture of the finished bread is so much better when the dough is well-formed into a nice, tight ball, so keep going for a few minutes until you get there. your bread will taste good regardless, but a well-formed boule will make you feel like a rockstar when it's baked.
  • once you've formed your rockstar boule of dough, clean out that bowl you stuck in the sink and dry it. place it upside-down over the dough while the oven continues to heat to keep the boule from drying out.
  • after the oven and casserole have heated for 30 minutes, peek under that bowl on the counter to see if the dough has risen sufficiently. if you don't feel it has, give it another 10-15 minutes to do so. the boule doesn't have to double in bulk. I find 30 minutes of rising is usually plenty (unless my kitchen is really cold), but it doesn't take me long to shape the dough — maybe 3 minutes total? if it takes you significantly longer, give your dough a bit more time to rise.
  • once the oven's nice and hot and the dough's risen, put on your good pot holders and remove the HOT casserole (or dutch oven) from your oven. take the lid off and set aside on top of the stove for a moment (somewhere it won't melt through everything down to the center of the earth). you want to take your lovely boule of dough and flip it upside-down, ending up seam-side up in the casserole, without burning yourself or completely deflating the dough in the process. experiment to find the method that works best for you — I pick up the dough gently, ending up with it seam-side-down in my hand, and then I flip it over while placing it in the pan. don't worry too much about getting it perfectly centered or anything like that.
  • slip those potholders back on. at this point, you can gently shake the dutch oven to get the dough better-centered/more even, if you want. I find that if you've formed the boule correctly, it all works out no matter what. put the lid back on and pop the whole thing back into your oven for about 25 minutes.
  • after 25 minutes, peek under the lid and check out your bread. at this point, it should have risen nicely, and should be a light golden-brown (if it's still pale, put the lid back on and bake it for 5-10 more minutes). take the lid off and place the casserole back into the oven to let the crust brown for 10-20 minutes longer (I find 12 minutes is just about perfect for mine), until it's a lovely burnished brown. use those potholders one more time to remove the casserole from the oven and set it down somewhere safe (again, like the top of the stove). remove the bread from the casserole pan to a cooling rack (I use a couple of wooden or non-melting silicone spatulas — you use whatever works for you).
  • let it cool at least 20 minutes before slicing into it; longer if you can stand it — it's still finishing baking inside, even after it's out of the oven. when it's cool enough, slice with a sharp bread knife and check out your awesome bread. yes, you do rock.
Red Star Baking Yeast is available through my Amazon affiliate link if you can't find it locally.

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