Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Artisinal Bread for Beginners [Zack]

Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread has made its rounds throughout the food blogging world for good reason.  He combined an effort to make baking bread more simple for the home cook with some genius tricks to turn out one of the most impactful recipes for the home cook.  The stir-and-leave-it start to the recipe lets the yeast do its thing for a day, which gives the end product great depth of flavor.  The use of a dutch oven keeps the moisture up during baking, simulating a professional oven with steam injection.  Finally, removing the lid at the end of the baking time crisps the crust.

Baking is difficult for me because it goes against every instinct that I have in the kitchen.  Don't get me wrong, I love the result of baking, but I don't like to measure ingredients and stick to a set recipe.  It irks me for no good reason.  This bread recipe is perfect because you can get away with measuring only 2 ingredients (flour and water).  An added bonus is that not only is it the easiest bread recipe I've ever made, but the bread comes out looking like a French artisan baker baked your boule for you while drinking red wine.


The most difficult thing about this recipe is planning ahead because you have to let the yeast rise for about a day.  So, start this a day before you want the bread.  Pictures below are of a combination of flour and just white All-Purpose (AP) to show that it's the same process.

Begin by getting a big metal bowl and add 3 cups of AP flour (or half whole-wheat and half white flour if you are feeling healthy).  Add in the salt and yeast and stir.  Admire your hard work.

Next, stir in the 1 5/8 cups of water.

Stir until the dough is sticky and the ingredients are all hanging out together.

Then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it in a warm area (not in the sun).  Let rise for 14-20 hours.  I'm less picky about the exact rise time, so I think there is some flexibility here. 

When the dough has doubled in size, it's ready!  Lightly flour a counter-top* and ease the dough out of the bowl onto the surface.  Fold over on itself 2 times and then cover with the plastic wrap you just took off the bowl for 15 minutes to let it rest.

*note:  don't put it directly on a towel, EVEN if you floured the heck out of it - it could leave dough all over your towel which makes angry girlfriends...

Take the dough and quickly shape it into a ball by taking all of the corners and folding them all into one point. 

Place the dough seam-side down on a lightly-floured cotton towel (or even t-shirt) and let rise for 2 hours.  It will again double in size.

About 45 minutes before you want to start baking the bread, turn on the oven to 450 F / 230 C and place your lidded pot in the oven so it can pre-heat.

This part is probably the most difficult part about the recipe:  when everything is pre-heated, CAREFULLY remove the hot pot from the oven and close the oven door.  Remove the lid and take the dough on the towel and flip it over into the pot so it's seam-side up.  Swish the pot around once so it's centered, replace the lid and put it back in the oven.  You are an athlete!

Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for another 15 minutes until the crust is nicely browned.  Times may vary, so check on it after 25 mins or so.  You may need less time with the lid off.

Remove the bread from the oven, place it carefully on a cooling rack, and enjoy the crackling noise of the crust as it cools.

Recipe ingredients:

3 cups all-purpose flour, or 1.5 cups whole wheat and 1.5 cups white flour
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 5/8 cups water
1 heavy pot with a lid (oven proof)

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