Today I baked the easiest ever bread. I’d read about no-knead bread making and thought it sounded too good to be true – and it is!
The bread needs to prove for up to 24 hours ( which had been slightly off-putting as I’m the ‘instant gratification’ type) so you need to start a day before you intend to bake. I started these loaves yesterday morning.
I followed the ‘traditional’ no-knead recipe first. It requires the bread to be baked in a very hot oven inside a heavy pan, to trap steam. The recipe I used was from steamykitchen.com, the author demonstrates the ease of this method by showing photos of her 4 year old son making the bread, it really is that easy, and her photos show each stage of the process, so worth reading, especially as I didn’t take any photos :(. The recipe used was 3 cups of flour, 1/4 tsp instant yeast, 1 tsp salt and 1.5 cups of warm water (body temperature). Put all of the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and add the water. Stir all together with a wooden spoon, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for 12 to 18 hours.
The dough was quite dry, so I had to add approximately another half cup of water to get all the flour incorporated, but the whole process took less than 5 minutes.
This morning the dough had doubled in size and was quite moist, as it should be. I tipped it out onto a floured work surface and with wet hands, flattened it out and then folded the corners into the middle (not sure why this step is needed) made it into a round ball and then put it back in the bowl to prove again. The recipe said to put the dough onto a floured tea towel or baking paper first, to make it easier to take out of the bowl once proved, but I didn’t do that, and not sure it made any difference. The dough needs to prove again for about 2 hours.
30 minutes before the bread finishes proving, put the heavy pan with lid in the oven on 450F/230C, make sure the pan doesn’t have plastic handles or lid, as they will melt. When the dough has rested for 2 hours, tip it into the hot pan and bake for 30 minutes with the lid on, and another 15-20 minutes with the lid off. When the bread is fully cooked it should sound hollow when tapped. Turn onto a rack and allow to cool before eating (the hardest part because it smells so good)!
Verdict: the bread (on the left in the photos) was quite heavy and dense, very rustic ( and I’ll tell you why a bit later). I actually didn’t wait for it to cool right down before eating and it was still a bit ‘doughy’, however I had another slice later and it was fine, but still heavy. The crust was crunchy and lovely.
For my 2nd loaf, also started yesterday, I followed a recipe on Jezebel.com. I like this site, the author is a girl who likes to simplify the simplistic even further! She’s made easy bread making even easier. This recipe calls for refrigeration of the dough, the rationale being that the slower fermentation of the yeast adds to the flavour. The dough can be left in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, so you can make up a big batch in a plastic container and take some as you need it, and you re-use the container again and again without washing it – the left over dough acting as a starter/improver for the next batch. Sounds like a winner to me!
The ingredients were 6 cups of flour, 3 cups or warm water, 1.5 tablespoons of instant yeast and 1.5 tablespoons of salt (seemed like a lot of salt so I only used 1 tbsp)
Put the water, salt and yeast into a plastic container, stir and wait a few minutes for the yeast to dissolve and start bubbling. Pour in the flour and mix with a spoon. This bit was quite strenuous due to the quantity of ingredients. The mixture was quite stiff again so I needed to add an additional 1/2 cup of water to incorporate all the flour. Loosely put the lid on and put in a warm place to prove. After 1-2 hours the mixture should have doubled in size ( mine hadn’t) put the lid on and put in the fridge for at least 12 hours, and up to 2 weeks.
This morning (18 hours later)I look the half of the mixture and put it in a lightly greased Pyrex dish (no lid, pre-heating or proving required) and popped it into the oven that had been pre-heated to 230C. Baked for 50 minutes ( same time as loaf 1), turned onto a cooling rack – and actually left it to cool, learning lesson from loaf 1 🙂
Verdict: I was worried about this loaf, it felt heavier and was smaller than loaf 1 and it didn’t sound hollow, but the bottom was beginning to get a little too dark so I needed to take it out of the oven. I expected it to taste denser and heavier, and if I’m totally honest, I thought I’d be feeding it to the chickens this afternoon. So was pleasantly surprised that it is both lighter in texture and tastier than loaf 1! It’s delicious.
NB after researching why loaf 1 was too dense, I discovered that the recipes I’d been using called for all purpose (white) flour and I’d used 100% wholemeal flour which not only produces a denser loaf but also requires more water! However, I think the refrigeration method overcomes the density issue and I can’t wait to see if this improves further after a few more days in the fridge.