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The best bread ever, and it’s not from Mark Bittman.

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The New York Times No-Knead bread has held an important place in my affections ever since it came out, but I’ve found an even better easy bread recipe–“Almost No-Knead Bread” from Cook’s Illustrated #90, Jan/Feb 2008. It’s faster, and the recipe uses beer and vinegar to impart fake “sourdough starter” flavor. The crumb is also lighter because it incorporates less water (so the dough doesn’t slump as much), and incorporates a tiny bit of kneading to make up for the drier dough not letting the yeast act as much. I’ve made two loaves of it so far, and another is in the oven right now. It’s the best bread I’ve made yet–it had the crackly crust but also an airier and tastier crumb, and it rose beautifully–this giant round loaf practically the size of a volleyball, all brown and crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. If they sold it at a bakery, I’d buy it every day–so much better than any other breads I’ve ever managed to bake, light years above any conventionally kneaded versions.

3 cups (15 oz.) unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp table salt
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp water (7 oz.) at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp (3 oz.) mild-flavored lager such as Budweiser–the recipe says using a dark beer will make the bread taste funny
1 Tbsp white vinegar (I used seasoned rice vinegar to no particular ill effect, because that was what I had on hand)

Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar, and mix well.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temp. for 8-18 hours.

Lay parchment paper (I used foil) in a 10-inch skillet (I used the mixing bowl) and spray with nonstick cooking spray. (I rubbed a little olive oil on there instead, since we don’t have cooking spray.)

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead 10-15 times. Shape dough into ball and place on the parchment-lined skillet, seam side down. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for about 2 hours, till dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked.

About 30 mins before baking, place 6-8 quart heavy Dutch oven (with lid) on lowest oven rack and preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Lightly flour top of dough and cut a 6-inch-long, 1/2-inch-deep slash in the top of the dough with a sharp knife or razor blade. Carefully remove Dutch oven from oven and remove lid. Pick up the dough by lifting the parchment or foil and lowering it into the pot (let any extra foil/parchment hang over pot edge). This keeps the proofed dough from losing its shape or deflating when you transfer it into the baking pot. Cover pot and place in oven. (I poured a little bit of water in the pot before doing this, to give it an extra steam bath)

Reduce oven temp to 425 and bake covered for 30 mins. Remove lid and bake another 20-30 mins, until loaf is deep brown and the center measures 210 degrees. (I don’t have a thermometer, I just played it by ear.) Carefully remove bread from pot, transfer to wire rack, and cool for about 2 hrs.

For whole wheat bread: Replace 1 cup (5 oz.) white flour with 1 cup (5 oz.) whole wheat flour. Stir 2 Tbsp honey into the water before adding it to the dry ingredients in step 1.

They recommend the Tramontina 6.5 Quart Dutch oven. I’ve been using the $2 Le Creuset I got at the thrift store, and a stainless steel lid from another pot.

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Written by orata

November 15, 2008 at 9:43 pm

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