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.

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