18 January 2010

An easy recipe

What makes a recipe easy isn't very simple to explain. Easy can mean fast, no-professional skills needed or maybe it means you've got all the ingredients in your pantry. But what can be most troublesome is that easy does not always equal convenient.

Take the recipe for no-knead bread I tried out a few days ago. I first tasted this homemade bread in the days after Jasper was born. Our friend Vickie brought a loaf over along with a boatload of Pasta Fagioli that was amazing. Although I could not remember to ask her for the recipe for nearly a year and half, I somehow remembered that she said it was baked in a Dutch oven. It was simple enough, she said, and sent along the link to this New York Times story.

The ingredient list is short: flour, salt, yeast and water. What isn't so short is the time. This bread takes time, and a lot of it. Thankfully, you don't have to do much to it, though, aside from let it hang out snug in a covered bowl for 18 hours. Then, simply turn it out, and let it rise for another two hours.

I have now made three loaves of this bread, and two of them have turned out delicious (the third went to my friend Eileen who has a brand new baby on her hands, and I have no expectations of a sleep-deprived momma calling me to discuss the crumb of my bread). The trouble was that the first loaf ended up bottomless because it stuck like glue to the pot I'd baked it in. The recipe just calls for a heavy-bottomed pot with a lid, and since I don't have a Dutch oven, I substituted my 6-quart soup pot. The second loaf went to the oven in my round, glass Pyrex with much better results.

On the third round, I learned that this bread was actually pretty easy to bake. It was a nice reminder that just because something doesn't turn out right the first time doesn't mean you shouldn't try it again. After all, I'd only really invested three cups of flour into this thing.

Here is the recipe as it ran in the New York Times with my baking notes to the side. Try it at least twice. It will get easier. Promise.

And a side note, a dead camera battery kept me from uploading photos from two weeks ago. Check out this post with photos now.

No-Knead Bread Published November 2006 in The New York Times Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising
Yield: One
1½ pound loaf

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. I could not for the life of me figure out the 1 5/8 cup of water, so thank you Google. I used 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons. Also, I rubbed the bowl lightly with oil, and I did allow mine to rise for the full 18 hours.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger. The generous coating of flour on both the towel and the top of loaf is very important so that it does not stick. Don't skip this step and be very generous. And next time I might even do a light coat of oil on the bottom and sides of the pan.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack. The towel bit is important, I think. It helps get the loaf into the baking dish without disrupting it too much. My oven required only the additional 15 minutes after removing the lid. Be sure to check it early and remove when the top is browned.


Vickie said...

Glad it worked for you, Amy. I've got some dough rising at the moment. One thing I always do now is put it on parchment paper for the second rise. It's easier to grab the corners and put the whole thing in the dutch oven. It never sticks to the pot, either. Enjoy! Vic

Amy said...

Vickie, thanks for the tips. I can't believe you've never had a problem with it sticking. I'm getting better at it. The bread is worth it, though. It's delicious! Thanks again. And about the pasta fagioli -- I want that recipe, too!

Kim Blau said...

It is in the oven. It smells great but seriously it is the biggest mess I have ever made while baking bread. There is flour all over my kitchen. I must have measured the liquid wrong because it was soooooooo sticky. Can't wait to eat it. Hopefully the taste will convince me to make this big of a mess again. Thanks for sharing.

Amy said...

Kim, the NYT recipe says it's a tacky dough, and I'd agree. It is pretty sticky. I don't like to clean up a kitchen any more than the next cook, but it's usually worth it!