Thursday, June 11, 2009

No-Knead Seed Bread

Okay. I know No-Knead Bread has become something of a cliche in the food blogosphere, but I don't care. Since baking my first loaf, I've become evangelistic about it. I bake it and share the recipe so often, not posting about it would be somehow dishonest.

Having homemade, fresh-baked bread in the house is a glorious thing. Having homemade, fresh-baked bread that rivals the flavor and texture of loaves I used to buy in the bakery is downright amazing. Now that I've found a recipe and technique that makes it criminally easy to have both has kept me in fresh-baked, delicious bread for several months now. (I don't know what I'll do when I stop breastfeeding. Sharing my caloric intake with Sam has kept the many, many loaves of this heavenly stuff I've eaten from making me look like Jabba The Hut.) The hardest part of making this bread, for me, is doing the math to figure out exactly when I can EAT it. (The dough should sit for at least 18 hours and then it takes another 45 minutes to bake.) I've never been a big fan of math. Or waiting to eat.

One of these days I'll get around to mastering the sacred art of proper bread-making, largely because I think it's important, but also because I want to pass the skill along to Sam. Until that day comes, though, I'm going to keep cheating by baking the no-knead way.

In case you don't know, the whole no-knead bread thing started, at least for me, with this November 2006 column written by Mark Bittman. In it, he profiles Jim Lahey, the baker and owner of Sullivan Street Bakery who "discovered" the breadmaking method. I've followed Lahey's recipe and technique to the letter and baked beautiful "plain" loaves, but I've also used his dough as a jumping off point for a variety of different breads. I almost always substitute at least one cup of the white flour with whole wheat flour because that's how I roll. I go back and forth between bread and all-purpose flour and have found it makes little difference. (This bread is more forgiving than a Benedictine saint.) I've made a Rosemary Black Pepper Parmesan loaf that I loved, but my favorites tend to be speckled with delicately fragrant seeds. Flax, sesame, black mustard, poppy, and roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds have all found their way into my No-Knead Seed loaves, in various combinations. I never measure these additions, just toss whole handfuls of them in with the flour, yeast and salt before adding the water.

If you haven't already tried this, you've waited too long. Now hop to it. And if you stumble across a variation you particularly love, let me know about it.

No-Knead Bread Recipe
(For No-Knead Seed Bread, toss indiscriminate amounts of your favorite seeds in with the flour, yeast, and salt.)

Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery

Time: About 11⁄2 hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1⁄4 teaspoon instant yeast
11⁄4 teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups 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, 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 about 2 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 O.K. 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.
Yield: One 11⁄2-pound loaf.

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