Thursday, June 18, 2009

Beauty comes to those who wait

And wait I did. For 20 hours. And then 2 more. And then 30. And then 30 more. Finally 15 more.

But you know what?

It was totally worth it. And it didn't take much effort.

Think I'm sounding contradictory? Wait until I tell you I didn't knead the bread. Not once. Not at all. I really like my everyday bread, but I've been searching for the perfect at-home artisan loaf: an airy texture, a well-developed flavor, and a shattering crispy crust. Well this is it.

Jim Lahey's no-knead bread is truly a gem. I was skeptical, alright, but the proof is right here.

Artisan Bread

courtesy of Sullivan St. Bakery

3 cups bread flour

1 1/2 cups water

1/4 teaspoon yeast

1 1/4 teaspoon salt

olive oil (for coating)

extra flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal (for dusting)

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add water and incorporate by hand or with a wooden spoon or spatula for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Lightly coat the inside of a second medium bowl with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest 12-18 hours at room temperature. (I let mine rest for about 20 hours!)

Remove the dough from the bowl and fold once or twice. (See the Minimalist's review to see the picture of the fold and also to see Bittman's review.) Let the dough rest 15 minutes in the bowl or on the work surface. Next, shape the dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel with flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal; place the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with flour. Cover the dough with a cotton towel and let rise 1-2 hours at room temperature, until more than doubled in size. (Wait the full 2 hours-- you've already waited this long!)

Preheat oven to 450-500 degrees F. Place the pot in the oven at least 30 minutes prior to baking to preheat. Once the dough has more than doubled in volume, remove the pot from the oven and place the dough in the pot seam side up. Cover with the lid and bake 30 minutes. Then remove the lid and bake 15-30 minutes uncovered, until the loaf is nicely browned.

Notes: My dough stuck pretty horribly to the towel, so I think next time I'm going to well flour parchment paper and place the dough in the parchment and then surround with a towel for warmth. I baked my bread in my Romertopf clay pot, which required 30 minutes of soaking beforehand. With a gas oven you also need to heat the pot slowly. Over a period of 30 minutes slowly increase the oven temperature so that the clay pot does not crack from too drastic a temperature change. And don't worry about the dough sticking to the ungreased pot. There's not a chance it will after baked. I haven't had bread with this crispy a crust since I lived in France; a crunch that battles the strength of your jaw muscles. My bread knife was hardly suitable to crack through once it came out of the oven. (Yea yea, I couldn't wait for it to cool. So sue me...) But once you break through slightly it shatters like an airy crumb should and reveals a light, developed bread within. And the smell. Heavenly. This is a whole new realm of bread.

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