Thursday, January 15, 2009

The BEST Bread You Can Make At Home

I try not to use superlatives too often, because if I was getting on here everyday telling you I made the BEST X and the BEST Y, you'd never believe me and totally think I was full of it. And really not every recipe is the BEST. Most are just mediocre, some are special, and a rare handful are the BEST--the recipes that you know will become splattered with food and fingerprints because you will use them so much.

This No Knead Bread recipe is the BEST. That's right, NO kneading. A little stirring, two folds, and minimal shaping.

Okay, so I'm starting to sound like a bit of a Mark Bittman groupie this week, since this is the third recipe of his that I have posted about, but I promise after this I will put down my copy of How to Cook Everything and step away from the Bitten blog. (Bittman actually got the recipe from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City, so he's really more of a messanger here.)

This bread has been raved about on pretty much every food blog, forum, and Web site out there since it was first published in The New York Times in 2006 because 1) it's ridiculously easy, and 2) it is more like fresh bakery bread than anything else you can make at home. And as soon as you make it, you will rave about it to whoever listens to you too. Trust me. I swore I wasn't going to do it. I thought I would just make it, eat it, and leave it be. But once I tried it, I knew I had to spread the word, even if there is only one person out there who hasn't heard about it yet.

I mean look at it:

Perfectly crispy and crunchy on the outside, with a fluffy, light crumb inside. Some of you might live near great bakeries, and buy your bread, but if you don't or you want to save a few bucks during this lovely recession we've got going on--try this. It takes absolutely no talent, less than a handful of ingredients, and just a little time. Okay, 24 hours start to finish. But most of that time you're off doing something else anyway. That being said, you need some sort of cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic pot that has a lid. That's the key to this bread. The pre-heated covered pot creates an oven inside your oven and the wet dough sort of "steams" itself. The other key is the long rising time, which gives it its delicious yeasty, almost buttery, flavor.

And COMING SOON: cake made from whole lemons, peel, pith and all.

Jim Lahey's No Knead Bread
From Mark Bittman
Make 1 large loaf

4 cups all-purpose or bread flour (I use bread)
Scant 1/2 tsp. instant yeast (I use active dry yeast and rehydrate it in the water heated to 110 degrees before adding)
2 tsp. salt
2 cups water at about 70 degrees (110 if using to rehydrate active dry yeast)
2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil (optional)
cornmeal, semolina, or wheat bran as needed

-In a large bowl combine the flour and salt. If using instant yeast, add to the flour at this point. If using active dry yeast, rehydrate in the 2 cups of water heated to 110 degrees. (Use a thermometer, yeast is very particular about its baths.)
-Add the water (either with or without yeast in it) to the flour and stir until combined.
-Cover with plastic wrap or put the olive oil in a second bowl and transfer the dough to that, turn to coat with oil, and cover with plastic wrap. (I don't like to dirty extra bowls, so I just covered mine up and called it a day.)
-Let the dough rest and rise for about 18 hours at 70 degrees. When the dough is ready, its surface will be dotted with bubbles. Dough rises faster in warmer temperatures and slower in cooler temperatures.
-Lightly flour a work surface, remove the dough, fold once or twice. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.
-Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, form it into a ball. Coat a cotton (not terry cloth) towel with cornmeal or wheat bran. Use a lot. (You can also use a silicone baking mat instead of the towel.) Put the dough seam-side down on the towl, dust with more flour or cornmeal and cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours or until double in size. It won't spring back readily when poked with your finger when it is done.
-Half an hour before the dough is ready, preheat your oven to 425 degrees and put a covered pot (with the cover on) in the oven as it heats. (Mine was enameled cast iron and 5.5 qts. The recipe says you can use a 3 to 4 quart pot, but I am skeptical because my loaf completely filled my pot.)
-When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven and flip the dough over into the pot, seam-side up. Don't worry if the dough doesn't look perfect, it will even out while its baking. Cover the pot with the lid and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes until the loaf is browned. If the dough starts to smell scorched, lower the heat a little. (If you want a really crusty, brown loaf remove the lid at 20 minutes and bake uncovered for 30 to 40 minutes.)
-Let the bread rest on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing.


Twin Tables said...

I have been fighting trying this bread as to avoid the bandwagon, but I think you just convinced twins it is really worth it. Has to be worth one try. Twin Tables does love their bread!

Anonymous said...

I love bread with a passion and seriously, no knead bread is my TOTAL favorite. I mean really! Who can beat completely easy AND super delicious! No one.

that sandwich looks awesome!

muddywaters said...

This looks great. I've tried the no-knead bread a couple of times, and I've had good results.

Why does a sandwich always taste better when you bake your own bread? The sandwich looks delish.