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Thursday, April 24, 2008

No-Knead Bread First attempt

I'm only about 18 months late on this hot trend. I was completely aware of the hoopla about no-knead bread. First, it was Mark Bittman's NY Times article on Jim Lahey's no-knead bread from a Manhattan bakery. The food-blogosphere fairly exploded with no-knead covereage and home bakers in record numbers began destroying the knobs on their Le Creuset Dutch Ovens. Then, a year later, another NY Times article reviewed Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and the same bloggers said this bread was even easier.

Even one of my favorite food bloggers wrote about the joys of no-knead bread. But I was unmoved. All this time, I have had my own, reliable, slow-rise bread recipe. I've been making my bread machine knead the dough in the evening and rise all night until finally baking it early in the morning, finishing just in time to wake me to the smell of fresh-baked bread, ready to slice for sandwich. And I knew that making no-knead bread from a slack dough was not new. Some cooks even insist on kneading slack doughs. But I digress....

What really got me interested in making no-knead bread from a slack dough was a FoodontheFood entry on making sauerkraut at home. I'm not kidding. A discussion of lacto-fermentation ensued, and it got me to thinking about how those pictures of no-knead bread boules look like a really nice sourdough. And I really love sourdough. And I like the shatteringly flakey crust you get on a nice Parisian baguette. Or the flakey crust on a loaf from Sarcone's in Philadelphia. Or the chewy crust on the semi-sourdough loaf I get from Big Sky Bread Company at the West Chester Grower's
So I finally started my own no-knead loaf. I started with Jim Lahey's recipe from Mark Bittman's column. I made up the dough the night before last, substituting a tablespoon of plain yogurt for a tablespoon of water. For lacto-fermentation, of course. I thought the dough was soupy, rather than shaggy, so I added a bit more flour. I let the dough rise overnight, put it in the refrigerator in the morning, took it out again at dinner time and did the 15-second fold over. I baked the bread in a Corning ware casserole (30 minutes covered, 25 minutes uncovered) at 500F until its internal temperature was 205F -- I'm not much good at judging loaves by thumping.

The dough started out shaggy, then bubbly and stringy. Rolled oats kept it from sticking to the tea-towel during its final 2-hour rise. That worked well, but the tea towel really got damp. I plopped the bread into the preheated casserole. The loaf came out beautiful. And it crackled as it cooled, just like a bowl of Rice Crispies. Very exciting.

I cut a slice and it was beautiful -- all full of big holes. The crust was crunchy and crumbly. But not flaky -- it was kind of hard. And, when I got to the center of the loaf, I could see that the holes were much smaller. When I poked at it, the interior was harder, like it had a backbone. It was really moist, too. Not custardy or like a good, moist popover. Moister and tougher at the same time, which didn't seem like a good good.

And the loaf did not seem as tasty as my usual overnight bread machine loaf, which has olive oil and honey to liven it up. The tablespoon-full of yogurt definitely did not do anything for the loaf. Now I can see, among all the raves, some criticisms, adjustments, and rejiggerings of the no-knead recipes. I've even seen as assertion that Peter Reinhart's recipe for pain à l'ancienne is much tastier. Since it has exactly the same ingredients in similar proportions, I don't know why. But I would like to find out.

Here are the problems I had with this boule

  • Too moist
  • Hard, dense interior
  • Not very flavorful
  • Crust hard and brittle, not flakey and brittle
I think the first thing I need to do is lower the baking temperature. Maybe the outside of the loaf gets cooked before the interior has a chance to spring up in the oven. Probably making baguettes or rolls would have less of a problem. So now I am working on batch number two, which I will make into sandwich rolls. It is fermenting away on my counter right now. No yogurt this time., The dough seems just a tad moister than "shaggy". I'll see how it turns out.


Alecto said...

I've been doing this for about four months now with fairly consistant results. 450 degree gas oven, bread pan with a tight cover preheats for 30 minutes and there is a second rise for 2 hours but no refrigeration at all. I have taken to adding about 4 tbl high glutten flour to my whole wheat and a bit more water.

Family Nutritionist said...

Thanks for visiting.

I haven't quite figured out this no-knead bread thing. My usual loaf comes out beautifully nearly every time. In the bread machine. After an overnight rise on the counter.

So it didn't occur to me that I might need more gluten to support the rise or oven spring. More water? I just don't know how I'd handle the dough. It deflates very easily already.

I'll try a few more of these and see if I can figure it out.