December 24, 2008

Two years ago Mark Bittman via The New York Times published an article about Jim Lahey's no-knead bread. It was the most emailed article that day. Jim Lahey had basically blown the lid of bread baking and bakeries with the simple notion that doing nothing would yield the greatest results. Now, for most life lessons learned, not doing anything (aka procrastincation aka inaction) has been the downfall of circumstance. It lends itself to regret, guilt, Catholicism.

But in the bakery, inaction is just fine. In fact the longer you do nothing the better. Yeast, the superhero or micro-slave does it all and very well. The idea with no-knead bread is that instead of alloting yeast 2-4 hours to proof and develop glutens, we do it over a longer amount of time. We don't rush them by kneading, rather we simply sit back and let nature take its course.

If you are a fan of science and have studied energy diagrams (think quaternary protein folding structure), you will have learn that molecules assume their most stable structure, when theyare given minimal disruption and a lot of TIME to figure things out. That is how I assume these yeast fellows work to develop proper gluten; proper gluten that results in chewy bread.

I embraced and tested this bread because I love science and I love cooking. To me this method is perfect and succinct. I call it an evolution not because of the yeast life cycle, but because this bread is a nod to the styles and methods that precede and follow it. This bread grows in my active imagination. I have tried many iterations of Jim Lahey's basic bread, some failing miserably, some exceeding expectations, but always something learned.

I start with basic bread, but quickly move onto cheese, and wheat, and hopefully pannettone. Jim Lahey was just featured in Gourmet magazine for this Yuletide bread and I have already begun the process of candying my own citron. But for now I will start with the bare bones.

COUNTRY WHITE NO KNEAD BREAD (1 loaf: 8 servings)

SUMMARY: You will need to make this bread knowing that you will be able to bake and finish it 24 hours later. If you are unable to look 24 hours into your future, forget it. If you start it directly after work, you will back it the next day, after work. Finishing the bread will take 2-3 hours, so count backwards about 20-24 hours. Best served hot out of the oven!

The no-knead bread is spectacular because it is chewy on the inside and crusty on the outside. This recipe does not require much, but it does require respect for the direction applied. There are a couple of musts that you must do to accomplish this bread:
1. You must have fresh yeast.

2. Yo must have time; to be able to store this for at least 18 hours. The longer you
leave the bread, the chewier and sumptuous.

3. You must have a warm room to keep your yeast alive.

4. You must have a large dutch oven that is oven proof with a lid. The lid keeps the bread moist while cooking. Usually you have to spritz the bread or bake with a water bath to accomplish the moisture level. The dutch oven is like a tiny oven inside of an oven. the moisture is trapped and has no where to go, but back into the bread. Genious!

WARE: You need a 6-8 quart dutch oven with a lid. No exceptions.

TOTAL TIME: 20-24 hours, Active time 3-4 hours

- 3 c flour, bread flour could be nice, but not necessary
- 1/4 t active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 t salt
- 1 5/8 warmish water, put your finger in the water and it will be slightly warmer than room temperature. Be okay with jumping into a swimming pool size tub of this water
- 1/4 c either cornmeal or wheat bran
- 1 T butter (optional, but kind of necessary)
1. Mix flour, yeast, salt, and water until just combined in a large metal bowl. The bowl must be large so that the bread can rise. It will be a very very wet dough. Do not be alarmed.

2. Cover with bowl with a damp towel and store in a warm place for 18-24 hours. Go live life.

3. The next day... check your bread. It should look risen with bubbles at the top. The dough will still be very very wet, but heightened. 3-4 hours before serving bread, start part two (forming and baking the dough)

4. Dump the dough out on a floured surface. Knead once or twice (really minimal) and let rest for 15 minutes.

5. Sprinkle the cornmeal or bran on top of a clean towel. Shape into a ball by tucking the edges under and place seamside down on top of the towel. The dough will still be very soft and slightly amorphous. It will jiggle a bit. Cover and let rest/rise for 2 hours in a warm place.

6. 1 1/2 hours after setting to rise, preheat the oven to 450 F with the dutch oven inside. Essentially you are preheating the dutch oven. Preheat for at least 30 minutes.

7. Take the dutch oven out of the oven and open lid. Do all this at the last minute to ensure that the pot it HOT. Pick up the dough in one hand and pitch it seamside down into the pot. The pot will sizzle and you will be knowing that you are doing the right thing!

8. Quickly cover the dutch oven with the lid and put into the oven to back for 30 minutes. Back in the middle of the oven.

9. Remove lid and bake for 15-30 minutes more. **Take a pat of butter and and melt on top of the bread. This will make the top golden and beautiful and brown. ENJOY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

LEEK AND GRUYERE NO KNEAD BREAD (1 loaf: 8 servings)

SUMMARY: You will bake the no knead recipe but add in the "fixings" after letting the bread rise for 18-24 hours, but before forming the dough ball.

WARE: You need a 6-8 quart dutch oven with a lid. No exceptions.

TOTAL TIME: 20-24 hours, Active time 3-4 hours

1 Country White No-Knead White recipe (above)

- 1 leek thinly slices
- 2 T butter
- gruyere cheese, Anywhere from 1/2 pound to a pound... depending on your mood and the start of the recession
1. Prepare the no-knead dough as described above up to step 4.

2. Saute the leeks in butter and lots of fresh cracked pepper 4 hours before baking the bread.

3. Cube 3/4 of the gruyere into 1 cm squared cubes. Grate the rest of the gruyere.

4. Spread the leeks out onto the risen dough (after 15 minutes proof) and work them in. Be efficient but never forceful. If you think you are overworking the dough. STOP. You can deal with unevenly spread leeks more than you can tough bread.

5. Incorporate the cubed gruyere but not the grated gruyere. Push the cubes into the dough. The dough will be too loose to knead in. For the dough into a ball to the best of your abilities and let rise on a towel covered with cornmeal for 2 hours.

6. Bake as directed above (450F, 30 minutes, in a dutch oven). Remove lid, brown top for 10 minutes in oven an then toss on grated gruyere. Brown for 5-10 more minutes.


Ted said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ted said...

porrrrk belly (buns) ?

Erica said...

If you like the Jim Lahey method for making bread, you should also take a look at Nancy Baggett's kneadlessly simple bread book! The recipes I have tried, are easy to follow and turn out great! She has a website that you can check out and explore. There's even a recipe archives that might peak your interest. Happy Baking!

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