Thursday, March 27, 2014

Artisan No-Knead Bread

I made this Artisan bread for my family a couple of weeks ago and it was received extremely favorably. So much so, that it was all gone within a couple of days... :) Not a crumb left. That's what I call a HUGE hit. My kids kept asking me when I'd be making it again. So, I actually made a second batch shortly after. It really is easy enough to make that I could have it at home at all times. The beauty of it is- there is no kneading involved- at all! The recipe I used is from the book "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking" by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. I decided to make the master recipe first (which I included below). There are many more variations in the book and I suspect they will be terrific as well. This method of baking does require some special equipment, such as a pizza peel and a pizza stone, but I have all these already, as we make our own pizzas on a regular basis. I assume you should be able to achieve similar (if not identical) results using regular baking pans/trays. It is definitely a recipe worth trying!

Boule (Artisan Free-Form Loaf)

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tbsp granulated yeast (1 1/2 packets)
1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt or other coarse salt
6 1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method
cornmeal for pizza peel


1. Warm the water slightly. It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100 degrees F. Warm water will rise the dough to the right point for storage in about 2 hours. If using cold water, it will take about 3 to 4 hours.

2. Add the yeast to the water in a 5 quart bowl or, preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container or food-grade bucket. Don't worry about getting it all to dissolve.

3. Mix in the flour- kneading is unnecessary. Add all of the flour at once, measuring it in with dry-ingredient measuring cups, by gently scooping up the flour, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula; don't press down into the flour as you scoop or you'll throw off the measurement by compressing. Mix with a wooden spoon, a high-capacity food processor (14 cups or larger) fitted with the dough attachment, or a heavy duty stand mixer fitted with the dough hook until the mixture is uniform. If you're hand mixing and it becomes too difficult to incorporate all the flour with the spoon, you can reach into your mixing vessel with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don't knead! It isn't necessary. You're finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. This step takes a few minutes, and will yield a dough that is wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.

4. Allow to rise. Cover with lid (not airtight) that fits well to the container you are using Do not use screw-topped bottles or mason jars, which could explode from the trapped gases. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approximately 2 hours, depending on room temperature, and the initial water temperature. Longer rising times, up to 5 hours, will not harm the result.You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period. Fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and easier to work with than dough at room temperature.

On Baking Day

5. The gluten cloak: don't knead, just cloak and shape a loaf in 30 to 60 seconds. First, prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to prevent your loaf from sticking to it when you slide it into the oven.

Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with four. Pull up and cut of a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough, using a serrated knife. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won't stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Most of the dusting flour will fall off- it's mot intended to be incorporated into the dough. The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out during resting and baking. The correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no more than 30 to 60 seconds.

6. Rest the loaf and let it rise on a pizza peel for about 40 minutes (it doesn't need to be covered during the resting period). Depending on the age of the dough, you may not see much rise during this period; more rising will occur during baking ("oven spring").

7. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450°F, with a baking stone placed on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf that won't interfere with the rising bread.

8. Dust and Slash: Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour, which will allow the slashing knife to pass without sticking. Slash a 1/4-inch-deep cross, diagonal lines, "scallop" or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top, using a serrated knife.

9. Baking with steam: After a 20-minute preheat, you're ready to bake, even though the oven thermometer won't yet be up to full temperature. Put your loaf in the oven. Quickly but carefully pour about 1 cup of hot water from the tap into the broiler tray and close the oven to trap the steam.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch. Because you've used wet dough, there is little risk of drying out the interior, despite the dark crust. When you remove the bread from the oven, it will audibly crackle, or "sing", when initially exposed to room temperature air. Allow to cool completely, preferably on a wire cooling rack, for best flavor, texture, and slicing. The perfect crust may initially soften, but will firm up again when cooled.

10. Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next 14 days. You'll find that even one day's storage improves the flavor and texture of your bread.cut off and shape more loaves as you need them. The dough can also be frozen in 1-pound portions in an airtight container and defrosted overnight in the refrigerator prior to baking day.

Variation: Herb Bread
This recipe shows off the versatility of this approach. Follow the directions for mixing the Boule dough and add 1 tsp dried thyme leaves (2 tsp fresh) and 1/2 tsp dried rosemary leaves (1 tsp fresh) to the water mixture. Or use other herbs of your choice (oregano, sage, etc- it's entirely up to your preference).

Recipe source: "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking" by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois

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