This post should really be entitled "In Search of the Perfect Loaf #5" to continue with my previous attempts from earlier this year. I came across this recipe months ago on a blog called Simply So Good. Even the author of that blog found the recipe much before she realized that it was Jim Lahey's recipe. In recent weeks, I've also read Michael Pollan's Cooked where he dedicated a whole section to breads. Anyhow, my on-off interest in bread making was rekindled a couple of weeks ago when a friend posted a picture of a loaf of No-Knead bread made by her husband. Oh I wanted it so bad :) !! So what was holding me back? I didn't own a an Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven (like a Le Creuset) and I really really wanted one. I had put it on my Christmas list and my husband took a picture of the exact one I wanted at the local Williams & Sonoma. It's not everyday that you just go out and buy a $300 pot.
As luck would have it, this past weekend we were strolling around in Ohio's Amish Country and walked into a kitchen store (both my husband and I love exploring kitchen stores for new gadgets!) and we came across a 5.5 qt Round Le Creuset almost for free - it was so highly discounted (we can't find a single flaw with the pot!). Of course, we brought it home with us much in advance of Christmas. So here I am - baking my first loaf of Jim Lahey's No-Knead bread. He is the owner of Sullivan St. Bakery in New York City. This recipe has been published and discussed and talked about by multiple columnists and bloggers before me. Suffice to say, it is simple and in Jim Lahey's words "... a 4-year-old could master it - and the results are fantastic!''. So here I am .. trying out this recipe, with my Rugrat in tow. Since my li'l Nikhil is 4y old now, I was guessing the stars were in my favor today.
Adapted from: Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread
Prep Time: ~60 min (in 3-4 sessions) and 14-20 hours rising time.
Ingredients (1.5 lb loaf):
- 3 cups All-purpose flour (more for dusting)
- 1/4 tsp Active Dry Yeast
- 1 1/4 tsp Salt
- 1 5/8 cup Water
- 2 clean 100% Cotton kitchen towels.
In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Mix to incorporate and then add water and stir for a minute or two until everything is well combined. I used a rubber spatula which several other bakers recommended as it is more flexible than a wooden one and helps combine everything quicker. The dough at this point looked rather soggy, shaggy and messy.
Everything I read told me not to worry. This is the trick used by Mr. Lahey. At this time the dough is about 42-43% water. From what I've read on other websites, the wetness of the dough is an important part of making this beautiful bread. Gluten molecules in the flour are more likely to be able to move around and align themselves (without kneading and sweating) and bind each other to make an elastic network. So fear not!! Simply cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest for 12-18 hours at warm room temperature (about 70° F). The dough increases by about twice overnight so make sure you use a large enough bowl.
The dough is considered ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Mine looked like this after about 15 hours of resting. In retrospect, I should have probably left it for the full 18 hours recommended. At this point, lightly flour a work surface (I used my marble pastry board) and transfer the dough on to it using a rubber spatula. The dough at this point was nicely aromatic. It had a yeasty aroma to it, but the sweet yeasty aroma came a couple of hours later. Sprinkle more flour on top and using clean hands fold the dough over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes. This is how mine looked just before I covered it.
After about 15 minutes, using flour to keep the dough from sticking to your fingers or the work surface, gently and quickly shape the dough into a ball. Mine looked like a flat disk even after this stage (despite trying to shape it into a ball and I decided I wasn't going to worry about it and hope for the best). Sprinkle flour on a cotton towel (make sure it is not terry cloth, or mixed fibers), place towel on a flat surface and gently transfer dough, seam-side-down on towel. Dust it with more flour (if needed) and cover it with a second cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. This is how mine looked just before I covered it.
Set a kitchen timer to 90 minutes. When the timer beeps, start oven to preheat to 450° F. Some online recipes called for a 6-8 qt Dutch oven while another one said they used a 5.5 qt size. Mine is a 5.5 qt Round Le Creuset and it worked perfectly for a loaf this size. Set the dutch oven in the cold oven and preheat at the same time as the oven.
At this point the sweet yeasty aroma of the rising bread should have overtaken your kitchen. I was beginning to feel hungry. When the dough is ready (about 2 hours or so), it should more than double in size. Mine grew in girth more than height and did rise really well. I wonder if the next time I should put the ball of dough in a bowl to help it grow in height more than girth. Here's what it looked like after 2 hours of rising. At this time, the dough should not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
Remove preheated pot from the over, remove lid and set aside (remember it is very hot so watch your fingers and knuckles). You do not need to grease the pot at all. No butter/oil is necessary. The enameled pot and the style of cooking (with lid) allows for the crust to form which helps prevent the loaf from sticking to the pot. Once the pot is ready, remove top towel from dough, and then use your hand to slide under the towel (and loaf) and gently turn the dough over into the pot, seam-side-up. I tried using the towel, but for me it was easier to pick up the ball of dough an place it in the pot with my hands. Also, it seemed like despite the amount of flour I had added to the bottom towel, it still wasn't enough, so I had to peel off the loaf with my hands as well. Once placed, if looked messy, so I shook the pan once or twice to help distribute it evenly. I remember reading that online. But also remember, it is a loaf of bread and it will straighten itself out to some extent as it bakes. Mine looked perfectly rounded when it came out.
Cover with lid and bake for 30 minutes at 450 degrees F. And be prepared to be in awe of what you will find in your pot 30 minutes later. I've posted a few extra pics here ;)
Remove lid, and return the pan to the oven to bake for another 15 to 30 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown.
And with slightly different lighting. It was a real beauty. Perfectly rounded with a nice golden crust!
Remove pot from oven and gently remove the loaf of bread from the pot (without scalding yourself) using hot pads. I shook the pot just a tad as I took it out and the loaf immediately came loose. I simply used one hand to tip the pot over and use the other hand to support the loaf onto the cooling rack. The pot is heavy so be prepared to ask for help if you can't lift your pot with one hand.
Allow bread to cool completely before cutting into it. Dig in!!!
My Assessment: The loaf was definitely fighting gravity. It was broad and squat, unlike the nicely rounded loaves I've seen in artisan bakeries. Overall, the crust was where I think this loaf aced it. It was nice and rugged like it came from an actual bakery (and not my humble kitchen). The inside was nice and crumbly with a lot of alveoli. It was a little denser than I imagined it would be and the flavor was pretty darn good - slightly nutty, slightly yeasty and also slightly sweet. Pretty awesome transformation of flour and salt with just a quarter teaspoon full of yeast.
Total Fat 3.7 g; Carbohydrates 286.5 g; Fiber 10.3 g; Sugars 1.0 g; Protein 39.1 g