bread stress? no knead

5 April 2016

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I was fairly sceptical about this one. No-knead bread that has an amazing crust and crumb, reaaaally? Well I’m very happy to say that I was wrong: it totally works. This is a keeper.

The recipe below is based on the now-famous method that was originally published in the New York Times, courtesy of Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery, and has since had the hell tweaked out of it by denizens of floury kitchens everywhere. The dough has a very high moisture content, with a long fermentation time in lieu of kneading to form the gluten strands that give it the chewy, did-somebody-say-artisan-baker texture and complex flavour. The baking process is ingenious and simulates a professional bread oven: keeping the moisture in whilst helping a robust, crackly crust to form. Plus, any excuse to use one of my beloved Le Creuset pots (this is by no means essential…take your pick from cast iron, Pyrex, stainless steel, ceramic or enamel – it just needs to be able to hold up to 45 minutes in a very hot oven, and to have a lid, although you could use aluminium foil at a push).

BEFORE YOU START: work out when you want to bake the bread (oven time is between 45 minutes and an hour) and count back around 21 hours to give you your start time. Bear in mind that you will need to tend to the dough briefly after 18 hours. You can play around with the timings to fit your lifestyle and schedule and see how it affects the taste and quality of the end product, but ideally you want to let the dough ferment for at least 12 hours – in which case count back around 15 hours to work out when to start.

No-Knead Bread

430g bread flour
0.25 teaspoon instant or ‘quick’ yeast (I used this one)
1.5 teaspoons salt
cornmeal, semolina, flour or wheat bran for dusting

Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add 345g water (straight from the tap is fine) and stir until all the flour is mixed in and it looks sticky and shaggy. Cover the bowl with clingfilm or **top tip** a shower cap of the type supplied free in hotels the world over – works a treat. Let the dough rest for at least 12 hours, preferably around 18, at room temperature. It will gently expand and bubbles will start to appear on the surface.

After the fermentation time has elapsed, flour a work surface, tip the dough out of the bowl, sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it in on itself from all four sides, then either return to the bowl or leave where it is (either way, put it ‘seam side’ down), cover with clingfilm and let it rest for 15 minutes. Don’t use too much flour – we’re aiming for a wet dough here folks.

Lightly flour your hands and gently and quickly shape the dough, spinning it on the counter to tuck the sides underneath and form a smooth ball – this is called chafing. You can then put it either into a lined proving basket, on a cotton tea towel or on a piece of parchment paper; whichever you use, dust it generously with cornmeal/semolina/flour/wheat bran first, to prevent the dough from sticking. Cover with a tea towel and leave it to rise for around 2 hours until roughly doubled in size.

Half an hour before the dough is ready, put your cooking vessel of choice, including the lid, on the top shelf of the oven and heat to 230°C. To start the baking, carefully remove the scorchingly hot pot from the oven, take off the lid and put the dough in; this is easiest if you can just turn a proving basket upside down and dump it in. Give the pot a shake so the dough is more or less evenly distributed, replace the lid and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for a further 15-30 minutes until the loaf is browned to your liking. Cool on a rack and resist the urge to slice into it until it’s cool. While you wait, listen to it sing its song as the crust cracks. In general I don’t think we pay enough attention to cooking sounds…in fact, one day I think I’m going to do a cookbook based on that premise and am hereby copyrighting it in advance.

I binge-watched all four episodes of Michael Pollan’s ‘Cooked‘ on Netflix last weekend, which is what inspired me to get into the kitchen and connect with some real food. I wholeheartedly recommend the series if you care even a teeny tiny bit about food and what you put into your body.

Happy eating.

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