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Monday, January 15, 2007

The best bread ever

Presented here is an excerpt from an article that apeared last week in the Press Democrat. So far I have made three loaves of this bread, and have two more rising at this moment. It produces a rustic, Italian-style loaf that is delicious!

I have found that it needs more salt than the recipe calls for: 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 teaspoons tastes better. Also, the amount of water is approximate, although in the recipe it appears to be precise. Usually I use closer to two cups of water.

Greatest thing since sliced . . . . . ?


Jim Lahey's method of breadmaking requires no kneading. It uses no special ingredients, equipment or techniques. It takes very little effort. It produces a loaf that is incredible, a fine-bakery quality, European-style boule that will blow your mind.

It accomplishes all of this by combining a number of unusual features. Most notable is that you'll need about 24 hours to create a loaf; time does almost all the work. Lahey's dough uses very little yeast, a quarter teaspoon, and he compensates for this tiny amount by fermenting the dough very slowly. He mixes a very wet dough, about 42 percent water, which is at the high end of the range that professional bakers use to create crisp crust and large, well-structured crumb, both of which are evident in this loaf.

The dough is so sticky that you couldn't knead it if you wanted to. It is mixed in less than a minute, then sits in a covered bowl, undisturbed, for about 18 hours. It is then turned out onto a board for 15 minutes, quickly shaped, and allowed to rise again for a couple of hours. Then it's baked. That's it.

What makes Lahey's process revolutionary is the resulting combination of great crumb, lightness, incredible flavor - long fermentation gives you that - and an enviable, crackling crust, the feature of bread that most frequently separates the amateurs from the pros.

Lahey achieves the perfect crust by putting the dough in a preheated covered pot - a common one, a heavy one, but nothing fancy. For one loaf he used an old Le Creuset enameled cast iron pot; for another, a heavy ceramic pot. I have used cast iron with great success. By starting this very wet dough in a hot, covered pot, Lahey lets the crust develop in a moist, enclosed environment. The pot is in effect the oven, and that oven has plenty of steam in it. Once uncovered, a half-hour later, the crust has time to harden and brown, still in the pot, and the bread is done.

The entire process is incredibly simple, and, in the time I've been using it, absolutely reliable. Lahey thinks imprecision isn't much of a handicap and, indeed, his method seems to iron out the wrinkles: "I encourage a somewhat careless approach," he says.

It is best made with bread flour, but all-purpose flour works fine. I've played with whole-wheat and rye flours, too; the results are fantastic. The baking itself is virtually foolproof, so the most important aspect is patience. Long, slow fermentation is critical.

No-Knead Bread

Makes one 1-1/2-pound loaf
Time: About 1-1/2 hours plus 14 to 20 hours' rising

3 cups (430 grams) all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting

1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) instant, or other, yeast

1-1/4 teaspoons (8 grams) salt

- Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 1/4 cups (345 grams) 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, and up to 24, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

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 2 to 3 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

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 OK. 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.


Allison said...

I love baking fresh bread, and without the aid of a heavy-duty mixer or proper work-surface, most of the recipes I've tried have come out okay, but certainly not fool-proof. This recipe sounds so simple!, I can't wait to try it!

seajohncook said...

In which case you may want to take a look at the book "No Ned to Knead" by Suzanne Dunaway. Great "hand made Italian Breads in 90 minutes". And YES they are great breads.
Haven't tried Marks breads yet. Look forward to following your suggestion and try it this autumn. Fall is the begining of bread making season.
i have made Marks biscotti...very good.