Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Almost No-Knead Bread, Part III: The Leftovers

In an amazing twist of fate, we were out of croutons but happened to have a partial loaf of bread on hand. This probably does not happen too often, in fact it was the first time it happened to us that I can recall. Since salads are no fun without croutons, I just made the day-old bread into the best croutons the world has ever known, or at least the best I've had. The whole recipe requires only 4 ingredients:
 A loaf or partial loaf of bread, fresh or almost stale.
Olive oil, salt, and pepper. That's it! The method is just as simple:
First slice the loaf of bread into more or less 3/4 inch slices. Trim off the crusts and discard or make into breadcrumbs.
Slice the bread into 3/4 inch cubes and spread out in one layer on a rimmed cookie sheet. Slide into an oven preheated to 350 degrees.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes tossing once or twice. When the bread is toasted all over remove from the oven and drizzle with olive oil. After the cubes are coated with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss again. You can serve them warm or at room temperature, just try not to eat them all before they get on the salads. Enjoy!

Super Easy Croutons

1 medium sized loaf of leftover bread
2 to 3 tablespoons good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Slice the bread about 3/4-inch thick. Cut off the crusts and then cut the slices in 3/4-inch dice. Place the croutons on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, tossing once or twice, until they're nicely browned on all sides. Toss them with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Serve immediately or cool to room temperature.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Almost No-Knead Bread, Part II: Complex Flavor but Still Simple

This bread is possibly the best bread I have ever made, hands down. The crust is fantastic, the flavor is second to none. It is also an almost no-knead bread, but unlike the previous version this bread contains some more interesting ingredients. In addition to the standard flour, water, yeast, and salt, this bread also contains beer and vinegar.
I know beer and vinegar seem like odd ingredients to add to an otherwise plain dough, but somehow they combine to produce a great yeasty flavor. Many rustic-type breads call for a poolish, biga, sponge, or other kind of starter which is mixed the day before the dough is put together. The starter ferments overnight producing two effects: the flavor of the finished dough is a little sour and very flavorful, and the crust has beautiful little blisters which indicate a chewy and well formed interior. Instead of using a starter, this bread still achieves a complex and almost nutty yeast flavor with much less effort.
The novel idea of cooking bread in a dutch oven was new to me. The bread is baked covered for half of the time and uncovered for the rest. I suspect that cooking the bread covered at first keeps any released steam close to the dough. Many times water is poured onto a cookie sheet to achieve a humid baking environment, but a closed dutch oven would produce a similar effect. The final result is a chewy yet crispy crust, which alone would induce me to bake this bread again and again.

Almost No-Knead Bread
Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

Makes 1 large loaf

3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup room temperature water
1/2 cup mild-flavored beer
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Mix together the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Fold in the water, beer, and vinegar with a rubber spatula. The dough will look shaggy and not completely combined, but that's fine. Cover with plastic wrap and leave on the counter for 8 to 18 hours.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead 10 to 15 times.
Pull the edges into the middle to form a ball.
Place an 18 by 12 inch sheet of parchment paper in a skillet or other round pan and grease with cooking spray. Gently lay the dough on top, grease with cooking spray, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise on the counter for 2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size and just barely springs back when poked with a knuckle.
20 Minutes before baking, position a covered dutch oven on the middle rack of the oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Lightly flour the top of the dough and score about 1/2 inch deep. Carefully pick up the parchment paper and dough and lower into the hot dutch oven, then cover the pot.
Lower oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake bread covered for 30 minutes and uncovered for 20-30 minutes more, or until the dough is deep golden brown and the center of the loaf registers 210 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Let rest on a wire rack until cooled to room temperature, about 2 hours. Enjoy!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Almost No-Knead Bread, Part I: Plain and Simple


Since I have access to a stand mixer I do not mind making breads that require kneading. The mixer can do it all for me! If for some reason the mixer broke or I was away from my kitchen, a simple loaf of bread could require 10 to 15 minutes of kneading by hand. For this reason no-knead (or almost no-knead) breads are a great alternative.

This particular recipe for almost no-knead bread requires only four basic ingredients, salt, yeast, flour, and water. After resting on the counter for a couple hours the dough can be shaped and baked right away. This yields a bread with a good but simple yeast flavor, something like a sandwich bread with a thicker crust. After resting in the refrigerator at least overnight, the yeast flavors are much more developed and complex. This makes for a bread with delicious flavor reminiscent of sourdough and a blistered and crackly crust without much effort. Bread this simple and delicious is almost hard to believe.

Almost No-Knead Bread
Adapted from honey & jam

Makes 2 medium sized loaves 

3 cups of lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry  or rapid rise yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse salt

6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Grab a very large mixing bowl, or a large container that you can cover. In it, mix the water, yeast, and salt.  Just let that sit together for a while (you don’t have to wait for the yeast to dissolve completely), then dump the flour in all at once and stir with a wooden spoon. The dough doesn't need to come together in a ball yet, you just want everything mixed well, with no streaks of flour left, and you’re done.

Leave it in your container, covered (but not airtight), for a few hours. When it has risen and then deflated a bit, your dough is done. After about two hours it’s ready to be used or stored in the refrigerator.

To bake the bread, just grab half of the dough. Dust your hands with flour to help prevent sticking, and gently pull the sides of the dough toward the bottom, rotating the dough, until you get a roundish shape with a smooth surface. It should only take you about a minute or less to do this. The dough won’t be entirely in the bottom, where it may look bunched up, but don’t worry about it.

Put it on a a piece of parchment paper that’s been dusted with cornmeal to prevent sticking, and let it rest for at least 40 minutes. No need to cover it. If the dough has been refrigerated, it helps to let it rest a little more, until it’s no longer chilled.

Twenty minutes before you are ready to bake, put a cast iron skillet or pizza stone in the middle rack of your oven, and put a rimmed cookie sheet in the bottom rack. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Dust some flour on the top of your loaf, and slash the top, about 1/4-inch deep.

After twenty minutes of preheating, it’s time to bake the loaf. Pick up the parchment and loaf together and gently place onto the baking stone or skillet, and quickly pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the cookie sheet. Then quickly shut the oven door to keep the steam inside.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until you get a nice brown crust and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom crust. Remove and let cool completely, if you can wait that long.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Banana Bread

Banana bread is one of the easiest things to make, requiring very few ingredients and little time. It is delicious plain or toasted, buttered or not buttered, just about any way you can imagine. The only thing is, banana bread never tastes like bananas. There is still a sweet, fruity, vanilla flavor, but it is certainly not the same as raw bananas.

You can dress up a simple banana bread by adding toasted coconut, chocolate chips, or just the traditional nuts- walnuts. Walnuts are the easiest nuts to add to breads and cakes because even if there is no time to toast them prior to adding them to the batter, they don't end up with an off texture. Pecans, for instance need to be toasted or they feel almost soggy when baked into breads like this one. Also keep in mind, the nuts you add do not need to be in tiny pieces. When the bread is cut, whatever is added will be sliced as well. How easy is that?

Banana Bread

Adapted from Danielle Bean

Makes two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 loaves

3 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 cups ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs

1 cup walnuts (or other nuts, chocolate, or toasted coconut) coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch loaf pans. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together milk, oil, eggs, and mashed banana. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; mix just to moisten. Add chopped nuts etc. and mix just until incorporated. Pour batter evenly into prepared loaf pans. Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.