What is it about bread? It's great with butter, jam, ham, and this time of year -- apple butter! It's such a simple thing, really, but it's still a treat.
This whole bread thing started because my mother wanted a New York Rye. Those of you who live in big cities like New York and Chicago are thinking so buy her a loaf. What's the big deal?
Well, it's a one hour drive each way to the closet loaf of New York Rye. Yes, we do have bakeries, but they tend to bake things like Sunflower Seed-Spelt-Olive-Raisin-Whole Wheat Bread. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
In my experience (and I think most of us are authorities on bread, having eaten it most of our lives) the best bread has precious few ingredients. And really boring ones at that! Flour, salt, water, yeast. That pretty much covers it.
But in our busy lives, there are issues with baking our own bread. You have to plan ahead to buy bread flour and yeast for starters. It has to be kneaded. It has to rise. Then it has to be punched down and kneaded again. Then, heaven forbid, another rising! Seriously, who has time for all that?
For years I've gotten away with using a bread machine. (Shh, they'll never know if you take the bread out after the first rising, shape it and let it rise a second time before baking. It won't have that funky bread machine look. You can even make rolls that way!)
So as I was flipping through a Cook's Illustrated cookbook, I screeched to a dead stop when I saw Almost No Knead Bread. Was it possible? Cook's is an extremely reliable source. Hmm. So I tried. The first loaf, duly made with rye for my mother, was, well, edible if not exciting. So I went back and made the plain bread recipe.
I won't lie that it doesn't need to rise. It does. But you don't need bread flour, and it needs almost no kneading! That part is so true! Apparently this recipe originated with a baker named Jim Lahey at the Sullivan Street Bakery. The New York Times published the recipe, and people have been tweaking it ever since.
Cook's added some ingredients. I particularly liked the addition of beer. I'm not quite convinced about the necessity of vinegar, though, especially since it's not in the original recipe. I will also add a touch more salt the next time I bake it. Cook's uses 1 teaspoon, Lahey used 1 1/4 and quite frankly, a teeny bit more salt would be good.
It's a very simple recipe. Honestly, the biggest chore for me was figuring out the timing. The first rising should be between 12 and 18 hours. If, like my mother, you're a morning baker, then you end up having to rush to do the second rising and the baking late in the evening. If you're a mid-morning baker, then you're looking at midnight. I found that by making the dough after dinner (and that part is so easy that it's really mindless), it can rise overnight and be baked the next day. Mine was ready by lunchtime. (With a little brie and an apple -- yum!)
There's nothing tricky about this recipe, which is what's so very lovely about it. I'm going to number the steps and hopefully have pictures of most of them.
I have a young cat who is obsessed with biting plastic, so I just popped the rising dough into the COLD oven for the night so I wouldn't have to worry about her attacking it. If you don't have a plastic-obsessed cat, you can leave it in a draft-free location at room temperature, about 70 degrees.
6 - 8 quart heavy covered pot (Dutch Oven) Note: This starts at a very high temperature. The original recipe preheats the oven only to 450. Be sure the handles on your pot can withstand high temperatures of 450 to 500.
3 cups plain flour + more for kneading
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast (that's not a typo 1/4 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mild beer (I used Heineken)
3/4 cup tepid water
1 tablespoon vinegar
1. In the evening, place flour, yeast, and salt in a bowl and combine. Add beer, water, and vinegar and stir until blended. The dough will look shaggy. Cover with plastic wrap, slide into a cold oven and go to bed.
2. 12 to 18 hours later the dough will appear bubbly. Pour a little flour on a work surface, turn the dough onto it and knead with the heel of your hand 12 to 15 times, folding it over onto itself.
|Bubbly dough after 12 hours.|
3. Tear off a good-sized chunk of parchment paper and deposit the dough, seam side down on the paper.
Cover with a kitchen towel and place in draft-free location while it rises, about two hours. (Note: after 1 1/2 hours you need to turn on your oven.)
|Place on parchment paper.|
4. Place the covered pot in the oven and preheat to 500 about 1/2 hour. The dough should have doubled in size. Brush the top with cold water and sprinkle with Kosher salt.
|Brush with water and sprinkle with Kosher salt.|
Lift it using the parchment paper and place it with parchment paper inside the HOT pot. Cover and place in the oven. Turn the temperature down to 450. Set timer for 30 minutes.
5. After 30 minutes, take the lid off of the pot. Bake another 20-30 minutes. The crust should be golden brown. Take care removing from hot pot. I found two spatulas were perfect for lifting it out.
|Next attempt -- New York Rye!|