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!

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