Sunday, December 16, 2007

Simple Crispy (No-Knead!) Loaf

This past Thursday, I left my cube to get something at the printer and by the time I walked back (muttering to myself because I'd ALREADY found a typo I'd have to fix), the sky out the window was full of thick, fat flakes. Our offices closed about an hour after that. I was supposed to have class later, but honestly? I just wasn't feelin' it. What I WAS feelin' was going home, curling up on the couch with some knitting and watching the season premiere of "Crowned" taped the night before. And so I sat at my computer in my empty office pressing the refresh button on my internet browser until ("C'mon! C'mon!") the note went up on the school website that classes were canceled. YES!

Three full trains passed through the station before one came with enough space for me to smoosh myself, my two bags of shtuff, and my equipment roll into the crevice between the first step and the door. Two hours later, I finally got off the train and forged the last stretch of the journey on foot because I could walk faster than the traffic. It was cumbersome with the bags, but I actually think they made good ballast to keep me afloat in the snow. And though I managed to keep my footing the whole way, I like to think they would have cushioned my fall. Except for my equipment roll. That would have...yeah, not the equipment roll.

So after I thawed out with a glass of wine and some mother-daughter pageant action, what did I do with my evening off from baking class? Why, I BAKED of course! I mean DUH! What ELSE would I be doing with a night off from school?!

Ahem.

I first saw this recipe for "Simple Crusty Bread" in the New York Times a few weeks ago. It pledged to be an alternative to the No-Knead Bread of recent fame, but even simpler! quicker! and more flavorful! It was this last promise that really caught my eye since, for me, the lackluster flavor of the No-Knead Bread outweighed it's convenience. I was also intrigued by the fact that one recipe made four loaves and the dough would keep in the fridge for up to two weeks, allowing you to lob off a piece whenever the mood struck. In general a slow rise will give you a more complex flavor and better texture, and a 'retarded' or 'delayed fermentation' rise in the fridge will result in a slightly sweet bread, like the slackdough breads I was working on a few summers ago--HERE. I baked off one loaf right away and stored the other three in the fridge for taste-tests over the next few weeks.

Dough just after combining ingredients

My initial reaction to this bread is....(drumroll!)....pleasant surprise. The just-mixed dough was stiff and tacky, and I had very low expectations of being able to shape it into anything resembling loaf. But somewhere over the next two hours of rising, it really pulled itself together. With only a light dusting of flour, I was able to handle it relatively easily and shape it into a nice little ball. I decided to rest my dough on the countertop instead of on the peel as the recipe suggests since I've had a few too many experiences of resting the dough on the peel, going to shuffle it loving into the oven, and having it stick to the peel and turn out looking like THIS despite a generous dusting of cornmeal. I was able to pick the ball up off the counter and plop it onto my peel without too much fuss. It stuck a bit, but then willingly slid out onto the pizza stone. It didn't rise very much in the oven, but it did keep it's nice round shape without deflating at all--an amazing feat for any loaf, if I do say so myself.

The dough after the 2-hour rise

The crust browned very evenly and crackled when I cut into it--thumbs up for that. The crumb was tight and moist with a few larger holes here and there--a second thumbs up. And the taste? Decent! Not as much flavor as a traditionally kneaded bread, but also not too shabby. It's a little salty, but I'm a fan of salt so no complaints here. It even past the second-day-toast-test with flying colors. I also like that it's a smaller loaf, which means that I have a chance of eating it before it goes completely stale or moldy.

I'm really excited to try the other loaves as the dough ages over the next few weeks. Even if there's not much flavor development, I think this is still my new standby Lazy Girl's Loaf!


Shaped loaf

This is what the underside of the loaf looks like after you stretch the top

~~~~~~

Lazy Girl's Loaf (a.k.a. Simple Crusty Bread)
Recipe alone: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/21/dining/211brex.html
Full article: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0DEEDB153FF932A15752C1A9619C8B63

Adapted from "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day," by Jeff Hertzberg
and Zoë François (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007)

Time: About 45 minutes plus about 3 hours' resting and rising

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt (If you don't like salty, try cutting this down to 1 Tablespoon)
6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough
Cornmeal.

1. In a large bowl or plastic container, mix yeast and salt into 3
cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until
there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose. Cover, but not
with an airtight lid. Let dough rise at room temperature 2 hours (or
up to 5 hours).

2. Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two
weeks. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough and cut
off a grapefruit-size piece with serrated knife. Turn dough in hands
to lightly stretch surface, creating a rounded top and a lumpy bottom.
Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal; let rest 40 minutes.
Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it.

3. Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle
rack and turn oven to 450 degrees; heat stone at that temperature for
20 minutes.

4. Dust dough with flour, slash top with serrated or very sharp knife
three times. Slide onto stone. Pour one cup hot water into broiler pan
and shut oven quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30
minutes. Cool completely.

Yield: 4 loaves.

Variation: If not using stone, stretch rounded dough into oval and
place in a greased, nonstick loaf pan. Let rest 40 minutes if fresh,
an extra hour if refrigerated. Heat oven to 450 degrees for 5 minutes.
Place pan on middle rack.

2 comments:

Evie said...

Emma- This is totally wack. I don't understand how such a magnificent looking loaf of bread can be made without kneading to form the strong gluten structure... this goes against everything I was taught in bread making class!! My world is now shattered.
:)

Emma C said...

I KNOW! It's crazy! I don't really understand the science behind it either (that's a rainy-day research project, fo sho). I like this loaf SO much better than the No-Knead Loaf. It's not a replacement for that great flavor of a kneaded and well-developed bread, but it's definitely a good one for when you just want a quick, no-fuss loaf.