Friday, 30 March 2012

No-Knead Bread

In 2008 the NY Times brought an article about how to make “no knead bread”.I found it fascinating for 2 reasons: My inherent laziness and the reasoning behind the concept, namely a natural chemical process that completely replaces the knuckle work otherwise required.

And then I discovered the real benefit: The resulting bread is absolutely delicious, looks and feels professional, something I have never been able to produce in a normal oven, and is so easy to make that it defies description.

I promise you, anyone between the age of 5 and 95 can make it, and you cannot buy any bread in town better than this. Forget about buying the £5000 steam-injection oven you always wanted – your old Ford-T gas or el-oven will do – and forget about the useless tricks that advise you to install a brick bottom in the oven or adding a pot of water while baking. It DOESN’T WORK!!!

First of all: Here’s the result:
Professionally home baked bread!
Does it look fine or does it look fine?
And here’s the recipe and process:

6 cups bread flour, strong or plain, plus some for dusting
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast (true – only ½ tea spoon) 2 ½ teaspoons salt
3 cups of water (or slightly less according to experience - you will know after the first bread!)
Extra flour or wheat bran for more dusting of a towel.

A. Combine flour, yeast and salt. Add the water, and stir with a wooden spoon – or the hand; the dough will be sticky and of a consistency like thick syrup. Cover the dough lightly and let it rest for 18 hours at room temperature. (Yes – 18 hours; time and chemistry does what kneading otherwise would have done)

B. Have patience and let it rest all 18 hours. You should be able to see a surface dotted with small bubbles by then. If you prepare at noon the day before, you are ready for an early morning baking session at 6am and delicious, crusty bread by 9 am! Work?? Well, how about Saturday/ Sunday?

So, 18 hours later, scrape the dough with a spatula onto a lightly floured surface. Remember: it will be sticky and quite different from what you are used to – like slow moving lava from a volcanic eruption! Sprinkle the dough with a little flour (or use wet hands to prevent sticking) and fold it over on itself a couple of times. Not critical.

C. Shape dough into a ball. Coat a cotton towel well with flour or wheat bran and put the dough, seam side down, on the towel. Cover and let it rise for 2 hours. When ready, the dough will be ca. double in size.

D. Heat the oven to maximum bread baking temperature (450F/ 200C in a hot air oven) and put a heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel or ceramic) in the oven as it heats. Le Creuset pots are excellent for this; just make sure your pot can stand the heat. I recommend lining the pot with baking parchment. At my first attempt, I couldn’t get the bread out!! When hot, remove the pot from the oven and turn the dough into the pot. Cover with a lid and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for another 20 minutes, until the bread is golden brown. It will look like the gourmet baker’s expensive bread – and taste like it.

Remove from pot and cool on a rack.

The secret of this bread-success is the high water content of the dough and the chemical process that aligns the yeast and all the little flour molecules over the 18 hours. You can, of course, experiment with timing, nuts and different kinds of flour.

Trust me – you will never buy an expensive loaf again, when it is so easy to make your own: 2 min. mixing and putting away; 2 min. forming the bread to let it rise and letting the oven do the rest. 10 sec. to remove it from the oven.

I call this a 4 min. luxury bread!!!

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