Friday, January 18, 2008

Almost No-Knead Bread update

In my last post about this recipe I declined to post the full recipe as it was still behind Cook's Illustrated's website's subscriber wall. Since then a) the recipe has leaked out to the wider web, b) my post somehow ended up on the first page of Google hits for "Almost No-Knead Bread" (but only if you include the hyphen), c) I've made it a few times and come up with a re-simplified and slightly improved recipe.

So, for all you Googlers, I hope this helps:

Bill's version of Almost No-Knead Bread

14 oz or slightly under 3 cups of unbleached bread flour (King Arthur is my favorite brand)
1-2 oz or 2-3 Tablespoons rye flour (this finishes the flavor rustification the beer starts)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
2 teaspoons kosher salt
7-8 oz water, at room temperature
3 oz lager, Grolsch for instance
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1/2 cup dough reserved from the last time you baked this recipe if it was less than a week or two ago (this gives a depth of flavor and a bit of sourdough tang), at room temperature

6-8 cup heatproof dutch oven or clay cooker
6-8 cup bowl (glass, ceramic, metal or plastic is fine)

1. Some time in the evening prior to a day you have off from work, mix bread and rye flour with yeast and salt in the 6-8 cup bowl. Add reserved dough pinched into small pieces. Add water and beer and stir until a dough ball is formed and reserved dough is dispersed. Check for texture. You're looking for something a little wetter than a traditional bread recipe. All the flour should be incorporated and the dough should be a little sticky and shaggy.

2. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm room overnight. In the morning check to see that the dough has risen to fill the bottom half of the bowl and its surface is pitted with small open holes. If not, you woke up too early. Go back to bed for a couple hours.

3. When the dough is ready, remove plastic wrap carefully; you're going to reuse it. Flour a work surface and coax dough out onto it. Flour, wet or oil your hands and knead dough 10-15 times in 10-15 seconds. Cut a half cup of dough off and put it into a small plastic container in the refrigerator for next time.

If you want to add any herbs, fruit, cheese or what-have-you, now's the time to do it. If your additions are delicately flavored, you might want to use whole wheat flour instead of rye back in step one. Check dough to see if you've added appreciable amounts of flour during this process. If so, add no more than a Tablespoon of water.

Roll the dough into a tight ball and place it back on the work surface or into the bowl depending on which you don't feel like washing right now. You could do all of this in the bowl if it's a large one. I use a plastic cutting board that I can carry over to the stove in step five.

4. Let dough rise for 1 1/2 hours and then take a look at it. Is it nearly double in size and keeps a dent if you press it with your finger? If not, wait a half hour and check again. If so, place your dutch oven (including the lid) onto the next-to-bottom rack of the oven and preheat for 30 minutes at 500 degrees.

5. After the half hour wait, carefully remove dutch oven from oven, dump dough into it trying to keep it from sticking to the sides, replace lid, place back in oven and turn oven down to 425 degrees.

6. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove lid from dutch oven. Bake for 20 - 30 minutes more until instant read thermometer stabbed into the bread's center reads 210 degrees (give or take a degree).

7. Remove dutch oven from oven and flip bread out onto a cooling rack. Gingerly turn the bread right side up and let cool for as long as you can manage. Up to two hours would be good. One hour at least. That's four to five hours after you kneaded the dough which is why I told you to start first thing in the morning.

That should do it. One interesting note that I haven't seen anyone address about this recipe is that it doesn't dry out as it goes stale, it just gets denser and chewier in a way that toasting easily remedies. It remains quite palatable for nearly a week which is quite unusual for home-baked breads without preservatives. Store it in foil or a paper bag, or just on a cutting board with the cut side down.

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