Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easy No-Knead Homemade Bread

Easy No-Knead Homemade Bread

This is the easiest, yummiest bread recipe on the planet that yields a firm loaf with a large crumb but holds together well enough for sandwiches. We eat it slathered with sweet butter with my dad’s recipe for Shanty Beans (see previous blog). And whatever else. I got it from a special edition of Grit for their Country Skills Series Guide to Homemade Bread. Now I make it all the time. It takes 12-18 hours to rise so plan ahead.

Basic White Bread

Makes one medium sized round loaf

3 cups bread flour, packed and leveled

1-1/4 teaspoons salt

¼ teaspoon active dry yeast

1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cool water, divided

Coarse cornmeal (polenta) for dusting (I’ve used amaranth. It works fine)

3 quart cast iron pot with lid (enameled Creuset works great; I have a Martha Stewart knock-off that I switched out the plastic knob for a wooden one)

Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix well. Add 1-1/2 cups of water and stir with a rubber spatula. Add the remaining water as needed until you have a thoroughly mixed, wet, sticky mass of dough. (The dough will not be like any other bread you’ve made – this will be much wetter and will not form a ball.)

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for 12 to 18 hours. After 12 to 18 hours have passed, your dough should be dotted with bubbles and doubled in size. (It might have an alcohol smell to it, but don’t mind that, it will burn off in baking. You actually have the very beginnings of sour dough.) Dust a wooden cutting board or counter top with bread flour and if you have plastic dough scrapers, scrape the dough loose from the sides of the bowl and turn out the mass in one piece. You can use your floured fingers, too. The dough will be loose and sticky but do not add more flour. Dust the top lightly with flour and cover with a non-terry cloth tea towel (linen, cotton or paper; terry cloth can leave lint.) Let dough rise another 1 to 2 hours. (edit. note: I have left it for longer or shorter than 12-18 hours plus 1-2 hours and it turns out fine. Just don’t deviate wildly in the time.)

About 30 minutes before the second rising is complete, place your empty cast iron pot (with out lid) on rack positioned in the lower third of your oven (not at the very bottom). Heat oven to 475 degrees. If you have a wonky oven like mine it really helps to have an oven thermometer. If you have a convection oven or reliable oven you’re in like Flynn. Once the oven has reached 475, remove the pot using oven mitts because the pot will be very hot. Sprinkle about a teaspoon of the cornmeal (polenta) evenly over the bottom. This is all you need. Trust me. The bread will not stick.

Uncover the dough and using your hands or dough scrapers, shape into a ball by folding the dough over itself a few times. Resist the urge to knead it. Lift the dough carefully in your two hands and plop it into the hot pot being careful not to burn yourself. Dust it with a bit more cornmeal. Or not. Either way it’s going to look beautiful. Cover the pot with the lid and bake it for 30 minutes. (edit. note: I’ve successfully baked it at a slightly lower temperature. I’ve done it at 450 and it turns out fine. My oven runs so unevenly that it has a tendency to burn stuff. You have to know how your oven runs.)

After 30 minutes, remove the lid and continue baking it for 15 more minutes. You’re looking for a golden brown color and a hollow sound when tapped.

Remove the pot from the oven and invert it over a rack. If it doesn’t plop out on its own wait a few minutes and take a wooden spatula and pry around the edges to loosen. It should plop out on its own then. Cool the bread before slicing. If you can keep hungry fingers off it you should cool it for an hour. Tell the hungry fingers it’s not cooked yet and they can eat doughy bread if they want but they’ll appreciate it more if they wait. A study in delaying gratification in this instant world!

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