Best. Bread. Ever. February 25, 2011 18:56

This past weekend I had the awesome fortune of staying with some dear friends in Calgary for a couple of days. These friends are creative, inspiring and, in general, a whole heck of a lot of fun to hang out with...and if that weren't enough, one of them (Rhino) was a professional chef in his last life.  How absolutely perfect for an untrained foodie like me. I get to ask him all sorts of  questions on how to cook this or that (which he patiently answers). He has given me demos (now i finally know the proper way to slice those potatoes). I get great suggestions on which kitchen implements are the best ones to use....AND....he makes pretty much the best food ever!

This time around Rhino had recently discovered a recipe for making no-knead bread (from Cooks Illustrated). He gave me a demo on how to make this easy, no fuss bread, saying that it was one of the tastiest home made breads he had tried.  It looked like an artisan bread, with a golden crust and holes throughout the crumb..and yes, the taste was indeed divine. It was similar to some of the artisan breads we tried in Romania, rich,chewy and with a crackly crust. The secret to making this type of bread (if one doesn't have a steam injecting professional bakery oven) is to create an oven within an oven by baking the bread in a heavy cast iron/enamel dutch oven (like a Le Creuset).


(Almost) No-Knead Bread

3 cups (15oz) white unbleached flour  (I used 12oz white and 31/2 oz whole grain spelt)

1/4 t. yeast (The yeast I had in the fridge had expired last year as I have been only making sourdough bread lately. I still used 1/4 t. but then also added a couple of T. of sourdough starter to give it a bit more rising power.)

1 1/2 t. salt

Whisk these dry ingredients together in a bowl. Apparently using a whisk to do this is important as you really want to disperse the yeast seeing as you aren't going to be doing any kneading.

Then measure out the wet. I found it was easier (and more accurate) to use a scale

3/4 C + 2 T. water (7oz.)

1/4C +2 T. (3oz.) beer..yes that's right, beer! the recipe calls for a light lager. I used  Harp Irish lager.

1 T. white vinegar (I was out of white so I used rice vinegar)

Mix the wet into the dry using the stick part of a wooden spoon until its incorporated into a shaggy ball. The dough will be pretty loose and sticky, and that's ok. Cover with plastic wrap (or if you have an Abeego non-plastic wrap, it works super great for this type of thing. Read about Abeego products seriously you should, because they are GREAT and have pretty much helped me to eliminate plastic wrap from my life). Let the dough rest for 8-18 hours (this is also what helps creates the bread's fabulous texture).

The next day  turn the dough onto a well floured surface. Knead it lightly 10-15 times. It will be pretty sticky, but again, that's OK.

Shape it into a ball and let it rise until doubled on greased parchment paper inside a pot that's approximately the same diameter as your dutch oven, covering it again with plastic wrap or a lid. Mine took about 2 hours to get there.

Preheat your oven with your lidded dutch oven inside for a whole 30 minutes. The instructions say at 500°, but seeing as my Le Creuset pot has the plastic handle, I only went to 475°. I wrapped the lid handle with a few layers of foil to protect it a little from the heat. I read on the net that you can order stainless steel handles for these pots, but cheap stainless cabinet knobs can apparently work well for this too.  After 30 minutes take out the dutch oven, remove the lid, and drop the dough into the pot, parchment paper and all. Quickly replace the lid and put it back in the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 425° and bake for 30 minutes..NO PEEKING!!

After 30 minutes remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is golden and has reached an internal temperature of 210°. The recipe says 20-30 minutes but I checked mine after 17 minutes and found that it was very slightly over done. Next time i will try  15 minutes. Remove the bread from the dutch oven and let it cool on a rack. You are supposed to wait for an hour or so before cutting into it as it's tricky to cut when even slightly warm...good luck! After taking the pictures and then sitting around salivating for 4o minutes we simply couldn't restrain ourselves. This meant we had to cut super thick slices (oh darn!). The bread was so delicious with just butter, and again we practiced restraint by only gobbling 2 pieces each!

I am excited to make this again (tomorrow!) with a slightly higher percentage of whole grain flour. I'm also going to try reducing the amount of commercial yeast to 1/8 t. and increasing the sourdough starter to 1/2 C. I will, of course, reduce the amount of water in the recipe to account for this. I'll let ya'll know how it works out.



**Update** Since first posting this recipe we've started using 1 cup of white flour and 2 cups of wholegrain spelt flour. We've also eliminated the vinegar and used 1/4cup of sourdough starter.  My starter is very thick, thicker than oatmeal. Instead of making it into a round loaf I used an oval Le Creuset dutch oven. The loaves come out a little bit denser than the first one did. The holes inside aren't quite as large either. But the texture is still fairly light and chewy, and the crust every bit as crackly. I think I even like it a bit better than the first loaf. oh yes, and it seems 15minutes w/o the lid worked better than 17.

We've also experimented with mixing crushed garlic in just before we put it in the oven. The next experiment will be with sprinkling grated cheese over it just after we take the lid off and bake it for the last 15minutes. We'll keep you posted.