Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Almost No-Knead Bread

As I mentioned in my first bread post, the February 2008 issue of Cook's Illustrated includes their modification of the basic No Knead Bread recipe. I picked up the issue recently and decided to give it a try. The CI website has the recipe in a subscribers only area so I won't post it here in full.

[Edit Jan 18: The recipe has found its way out onto the web by now and this post for some reason has ended up on the first page of Google hits for "Almost No-Knead Bread" so here's a link to a new post with my modified version.]

I will, however, mention that the main differences are adding a some beer to simulate the more complex flavor bakers get through wild yeasts and multiple rises, and just a bit of kneading. The original recipe creates a very wet dough that allows the proteins the freedom of movement to untangle themselves. A few kneads allows a less hydrated dough that's rather easier to handle (which is helpful as you now have to do more handling) and a little better texture.

I was skeptical of replacing some of the water with beer to add flavor, particularly as they call for Budweiser which doesn't actually have any. The recipe only calls for a few ounces per loaf so I had the choice of those half-size Bud cans or a full bottle of something I'm willing to drink. By the way, why do those 8 oz. cans of Budweiser exist? Half size cans of soda exist for mothers to ration out to their children, but who drinks half a bottle of Bud? This is not something I want to support so instead I used Grolsch which, while still a light lager, is actually quite tasty.

Perhaps I should have made the recipe straight as a fair test, but I also used a baker's trick of substituting in a few tablespoons of rye flour for flavor. Whether it's due to the beer or the rye I'm quite happy with the resulting flavor; it is a fair simulation of a good rustic loaf.

The recipe also called for a substantially hotter oven without reducing the baking time to compensate. I compounded that by neglecting to turn down the oven when I was supposed to and instead doing most of the baking at 500 degrees. That resulted in a thick crunchy, nearly burnt, crust. Not really to my taste, but some people like that sort of thing.

I'm quite happy with the result and I will be switching to this method for my future baking. I also appreciated CI's explanations of the hows the recipe works. The original New York Times article was was written with an air of slight befudlement and I find understanding a recipe a great aid in using it as a base for improvisation.

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