4.02.2012

no-knead need

no-knead bread, uncut

I know I'm years late to the no-knead bread party, but oh, what a party. I brought the AP flour. Jeff had the Dutch oven (or six, rather). The flour, water, yeast, and salt mixed together with my own little fingers sat on his counter in a bowl covered by a towel for about 16 hours.* Then the next day, we did the magical pour-the-dough-onto-a-cornmeal-sprinkled-towel-and-fold-it-over-four-times-like-wrapping-a-package trick, letting it sit for another four hours (because we had other things to do on a Sunday). 


no-knead bread in red Le Creuset

Then after running errands, we rolled the dough off the towel into a 500-degree, preheated 4.5-quart oval Le Creuset,** steamed it with the lid on for 21 minutes, then with the lid off for another 17+ minutes (to get all those crusty shades of brown), and let it cool out of the pan on a rack for 30 minutes before sawing it in half and smearing it with butter for the taste test. It needed some salt. But the bread itself was crusty and hard with a soft, pockmarked crumb.


no-knead bread, halved

Oh, the pleasures of fresh, warm, homemade bread. My mother made white and whole-wheat bread the kneaded way in metal loaf pans when I was young, as many Mormon mothers in the 1970s did, and then when she got older in a bread machine she and my step-father use occasionally, eating most of the year store-bought, plastic-bagged sandwich loaves, preferably on 99-cent sale. I tried out their machine for the first time this last December, making two loaves, one white and one half-wheat with extra vital wheat gluten. Each machine loaf smelled like bread (I gave them away, though I heard they were good) but looked like a tall brown chef's hat with a hole in the bottom where the hook was.

But no-knead bread looks and tastes artisan, as if one just spent $5 at a Euro-bakery—and takes so little effort. Jeff and I cut more thick slices and smeared them with a creamy, baked spinach-and-artichoke dip his mother had been given from a city-food gleaner she knows from church. (The dip wasn't past the expiration date and is apparently made by Walmart.)


gleaned, prepared food to accompany fresh bread

Sadly, we ruined the gleaned mac-and-cheese (origin unknown). Headed out to the backyard to take some photos before the evening light faded, I asked Jeff if he had any bread crumbs on hand to dress up the mac he was pouring into the unwashed, still-warm Dutch oven the bread had so cleanly popped out of. And only after the baked bubbly goodness was dotted with butter and broiled tan did we both smell the bread crumbs' rancid, chemical odor—Jeff said like turpentine. He scraped off as many of the bread crumbs as he could and stored the messy rest in his fridge. (As of the next day, so far neither of us is dead or even in stomach fits from those few bites of toxic bread crumbs.)


no-knead bread, top-down

But never mind the failed, churched-up macaroni—just look at that loaf of bread! Surely Jim Lahey deserves some kind of Nobel prize for his contribution to humanity. This morning, my bread-making confidence sky-high, I started another batch of Lahey's dough at home, using half AP and half whole-wheat bread flour and adding another quarter teaspoon of salt to the recipe. Having no bright-enamel-over-cast-iron Dutch oven myself, I'm going to use my thrifted 2.5-quart, Pyrex-lidded French White Corningware casserole (from back when Corningware was still made in the U.S. and didn't explode in the oven). And I'm about 90% sure the modifications will work.


*Note: We used 1/3 tsp. of active dry yeast, after doing some quick Web research on instant yeast vs. ADY.

**Note: In our research, we'd also heard of exploding Le Creuset knobs, the plastic ones safe only to 375 degrees, so Jeff switched it out for a chipped plastic one he had on hand, though nothing happened to it at 500 degrees. To be cautious, use a stainless-steel replacement knob for the Le Creuset Dutch ovens. Myself, I'm partial to the Flame, Black Onyx, and Dune shades of Le Creuset. As a bonus, the retired Black Onyx shade comes with a stainless knob for color contrast. Do, friends, family, and fellow countrymen, feel free to gift me one of those black beauties. I'll make you some bread.

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