Getting Closer (Bread-wise)

Update on my personal challenge to learn to bake a really good French-style loaf: getting closer. (The little mouse in my pocket would like you to know that although the above statement was delivered with suitable off-handedness, I am actually trying not to hop with excitement.)

Very close to the top of my Christmas Wish list this last year was a request for The Essential New York Times Cook Book  by Amanda Hesser. Wanting it desperately, I was prepared that it would not be among the packages under the tree. But happy, happy surprise.... it was. I had seen the cookbook in a shop window that I passed back in November and it caught my eye. When I checked it out at the bookstore, the appeal grew. And after 2 months of reading (uh huh, reading ) it I can openly publish my firm opinion. LOVE it! The reading is interesting but the best part? the recipes are easy to follow and the results are fantastic. At least for every recipe I have tried so far. Among notable successes was this recipe for bread.

The title promises something that I didn't really believe was possible. I had tried another recipe that billed itself as 'no-knead' and although it is true that no true kneading was required, vigorous stirring was - so it was a bit misleading to say it was 'no-knead'. This bread however really, truly, is not kneaded. The only drawback is the long rising time. That in itself is not a big deal. It just took me a couple of months to remember that I needed to start the day before (or get up really, really early!). I finally got myself together enough to try and the result was pretty close to perfection. I really didn't think it was possible to produce this kind of loaf at home. The crust is great - rustic, crackly and crisp. The texture of the bread? ........mmmmmmmmmmmmm. Best of all? Super easy.

This  is much closer to the bread I aspire to make - it may be that bread.

No-Knead Bread

3 cups flour
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups plus 2 Tbsp cool water
cornmeal or wheatbran as needed

Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Add the water and stir until blended; the dough should be shaggy, moist, and sticky. (I needed to add quite a bit more water then the recipe called for. Breadmaking is a bit of an art in that the moisture content of the flour can vary greatly and often judgement is called for. In this case, I added about 3/4 cup more water.) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 12-(preferably)18 hours at a warm room temperature.

Lightly flour work surface and scrape dough from bowl onto it. Sprinkle with a little more flour, and fold it over onto itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave for about 15 minutes.

Generously coat a cotton or linen towel with cornmeal, wheat bran, or flour. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to your fingers, gently form the dough into a ball and place it seam-side down on the prepared towel. Dust with a little more cornmeal (or whatever) and fold the sides of the towel over the top of the ball so it is nicely covered. Let rise for 2-2 1/2 hours.

At least 30 minutes before the dough will be finished rising, heat the oven to 450 F. Put a covered 6-8 quart heavy pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in the oven as it heats.

When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven. Uncover the dough and gently slide your hand under the towel. Turn the dough over into the pot. It sounds like it could be a disaster but it was pretty smooth. If it looks like a mess that's okay - it will end up fine.

Cover the pot with the lid and bake for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 15 minutes or until the loaf is beautiful and brown. Cool on a rack.

This recipe became the foundation for Jim Lahey's book My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method. With a title like that how can one resist checking it out. I could not and it is a cookbook that I would love to add to my (admittedly vast, maybe just large) collection. 


Jonathon said...

looks so good! I want to try it.

Cheri said...

Thanks for the cookbook, Jonathon. It is a treasure trove. And you are too. You make me smile.

Jan said...

I can't wait to have some of your great looking bread.

Jonathon said...

(Because I am obsessed with awesome stuff) I just realized how good this would be with your vanilla pear jam!

can't wait to get my hands on some of that and try it!

Eden Lang said...

and it was so good!

Nancy said...

mmmm, homemade bread!! that's a challenging time frame though. It looks so delicious and your photos get better and better. I have a French baguette recipe I will send you from a cooking class I took pre kids....I just have to find it!!