Monday, November 27, 2006

On the Bread Bandwagon

Everyone and their mother has been trying Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread recipe that ran in the New York Times a few weeks ago. The frenzy has been all over the internet and I knew I had to try it if it's really as great as everyone says. And it is as great. Not only did I make a loaf for Thanksgiving, but I had to make another one for just me and J-Cat on Friday because it was so quickly devoured on Thursday that we felt like we hadn't had enough. If you haven't already heard about it, the point is that you rise the dough for about 18 hours and this serves to fully combine the ingredients and do away with the necessity of kneading the bread dough. I don't really find kneading to be so tedious, but most of the breads that I have ever made are typical loafs with a pretty dense crumb. This one was an artisanal bread, baked in a cast iron dutch oven resulting in an airy light interior with a wonderfully shardy crust, just like from a bakery. I was jazzed.

My first attempt went quite well, although because of time constraints I was only able to let the first rise go to 15 hours. It was delicious, but I was hoping for a higher loaf. That may have also been due to the fact that I used slightly less yeast in my first batch than in my second, the dough just didn't rise as high for either rise. My second attempt was pretty much perfect. I was even impressed with myself, despite not having really done any work. I had to adjust the recipe slightly, here's how I did it:

1. I reduced the amount of water called for in the recipe from 1 5/8 cups to 1 1/2, because I had read numerous online accounts where people found the dough far too wet.
2. I increased the salt to about 2 tsp for more flavor. I think even more than that would be good.
3. I subsituted 3 tablespoons of white flour for whole wheat flour - this gave a nice roundness to the flavor.
4. I couldn't find instant yeast anywhere, so I used active dry yeast, increased it to 1/2 teaspoon, and warmed the water to about 120 degrees so that it would proof properly. It worked perfectly.
5. I was not shy about using plenty of flour for the folding and shaping of the dough before the second rise. As a result my dough did not stick to the towels at all and came out with a lovely flour-dusted crust. It really did look artisanal.
6. The first time I sprinkled cornmeal into the dutch oven before dumping the dough in because I was worried about it sticking. It wasn't necessary, and didn't even make a difference in texture.
7. As I sadly do not have a 6-8 quart enameled cast iron dutch oven as was called for in the recipe, I used my regular cast iron dutch oven which I think is only about 4 quarts. It was perfect because I got a great shape in the final loaf. Some people have been saying that the full 6-8 quart pots are resulting in much flatter wider loaves, which I personally don't like as much.
8. Note - when putting the dutch oven into the oven to preheat, I recommend putting the pot and the cover in separately, not covered. The first time I put it in covered and because the cast iron is seasoned I got a bit of a smoke situation when I uncovered it to dump in the dough. The second time I put the cover on a different rack and avoided that problem entirely. This won't be a problem if your pot is enameled.

Conclusion: This bread is awesome. I do have photos but I'm lazy to upload. Coming soon.

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