Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Thank you, Mr. Lahey

So, here is what this bread tastes like: You know when you and your sister are sitting on a park bench in Paris and eating your lunch of some fantastic cheese you can't pronounce, those huge French grapes with the seeds in them and a loaf of crusty, chewy bread? And you just keep eating the bread, knowing that you'll walk it off this afternoon when you hike up to Montmartre and climb the steps at the Sacre Coeur? And it's so good and you're a little sad because you know they don't really have bread like this so much back home and that you'll never be able to bake it in your own kitchen?

You know?

THAT'S what this bread tastes like to me.

First, HUGE shoutout to Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC. This is his method and recipe and I think he's a genius. The New York Times had an article about this no-knead bread revelation back in 2006, and I've been hearing about it off and on since then but had never made it until my friend Kathy showed up at my house with the recipe photocopied from Lahey's bread book (her husband John has been baking the bread recently). Thanks, Kathy and John!

This is SO SIMPLE that even if you have never made anything more complicated than a fried egg in your life, you can do this. For real. All you need is a bowl, a spoon, flour, salt, yeast, water and a dutch oven or a big round covered casserole dish.

Oh, and about 24 hours.

That's secret #1 to this bread. You have to let it sit and rise for somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-18 hours. The second rise is 1-2 hours, but there is no kneading involved.

Secret #2 to this bread is baking it, covered (half the baking time), in a really hot dutch oven or the equivelant. I've read online about people baking it in a good, big, covered casserole dish. The covered part is essential because the lid traps in the steam from this really wet dough and forms the crispy, crackly crust that is so awesome.

So, here's the recipe:

No-knead Bread

First, figure out when you want to eat the bread and start the bread about 24 hours before that. 24 hours will give it enough time to rise, bake and cool before serving. It doesn't take quite 24 hours, but if you want to be on the safe side...

3 cups bread flour (I was using some high-gluten flour because I had it on hand, but the NY Times article says that regular all-purpose flour works fine, too)
1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
1/4 teaspoon yeast (yes, that little)
1 1/3 cups water
additional flour, wheat bran or corn meal for dusting

Here are the directions, copied exactly from Mr. Lahey's book, "My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method." (I think I might have to buy this book...who knows what else this guy has to share?!)

1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix it until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Make sure it's really sticky to the touch; if it's not, mix in another tablespoon or two of water. (Abbey's Note: I found I had to add more water both times I made it, more like 3-4 tablespoons.)
Cover the bowl with a plate, tea towel or plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature (about 72 degrees F), out of direct sunlight, until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size. This will take a minimum of 12 hours and (my preference) up to 18 hours. This slow rise - fermentation - is the key to flavor. (A.N.: Mr. Lahey mentions elsewhere in the book that in the dead of winter it might take 24 hours for this first rise.)

2. When the first fermentation is complete, generously dust a work surface (a wooden or plastic cutting board is fine) with flour. (A.N.: I just used the counter.) Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough onto the board in one piece. When you begin to pull the dough away from the bowl, it will cling in long, thin strands (this is the developed gluten), and it will be quite loose and sticky - do not add more flour. Use lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula to lift the edges of the dough toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough under to make it round.

3. Place a cotton or linen tea towel (not terry cloth, which tends to stick and may leave lint in the dough) or a large cloth napkin on your work surface and generously dust the cloth with wheat bran, corn meal or flour.
Use your hands or a bowl scraper or wooden spatula to gently lift the dough onto the towel, so it is seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran, corn meal, or flour. Fold the ends of the towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1-2 hours.
The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, making an indentation about 1/4 inch deep, it should hold the impression. If it doesn't, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F, with a rack in the lower third position, and place a covered 4 1/2-5 1/2 quart heavy pot in the center of the rack.

5. Using pot holders, carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel, lightly dust the dough with flour or bran, lift up the dough, either on the towel or in your hand, and quickly but gently invert it into the pot, seam side up. (Use caution - the pot will be very hot.) Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.

6. Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15-30 minutes more. Use a heatproof spatula or potholders to carefully lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly. Don't slice or tear into it until it has cooled, which usually takes at least an hour. (A.N.: I only waited about half an hour the first time I made it, until I couldn't resist any longer...)

Doesn't that look easy? It is. And it tastes right, with that sort of burnt flour taste on the bottom crust. It's so chewy, too - my jaw got a little tired working through the crust, but I LOVE it! It was even good the next day, after having been stored in a plastic bag. I ate most of the leftover loaf with next Weight Watchers meeting is not going to be a good one. Oh well.


Libby said...

Yum, Abbey! Will you be able to make this bread for Easter? Also, it's about time that I should think about what I'm bringing up for Easter. Give me a call and let me know, OK?

Lara said...

I made this bread a year ago - and I completely agree with you - it is a fantastic recipe! You've inspired me to make it again.
Happy Easter to you and the family!