Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Herbed No-Knead Bread

I’m not usually one for fads. The whole “jeggings” thing is not gonna happen with me. The amazing berry acai diet passed me by (despite the persistent Facebook ad campaign). And remember in the 80’s when everyone was wearing jellies? I wasn’t. But No-Knead Bread is a fad I can really (and literally) sink my teeth into. It turns bread baking from a quaint hobby practiced by Martha Stewart wannabes to something that can be done by those of us who have jobs. And lives. Fresh baked bread is a joy, and any fad that makes it attainable is fine by me.

The best part about this recipe is that it’s so simple. Wait, the best thing is that it’s so cheap. Oh, and that it tastes so good. Well, just try it and see what your favorite part is.

3 cups all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
1 5/8 cup lukewarm water

(For herbed variation)
2 teaspoons Italian herb mix
½ teaspoon garlic powder

A few notes about the ingredients.
FLOUR: You can get all fancy with flour, and if you do a little online research you’ll see that bread bakers are pretty snobby about what they use. But for your first forays into the no-knead world, plain old all purpose works just fine.
YEAST: There are lots of kinds of yeast out there. For this one the best is instant or quick-rise yeast.
WATER: The temperature of the water is pretty critical. If the water is too hot or too cold it can kill the yeast. So make sure it’s just warm.

Before you start the bread making process, you should realize that while your “hands-on” time is pretty minimal, the actual time that the dough needs to rise is considerable. So don’t think you can start this before dinner and have fresh bread immediately. It needs to rise at least 12 hours for the first rising and about 2 hours for a second rising.

Combine the flour, yeast, salt, herbs and garlic powder. Pour in the water and stir until you get a sticky, shaggy dough. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise for at least 12 hours, or overnight in a warm spot (I like to put it in the microwave). After the dough is risen, dust your hands and a work surface (like your counter) with flour. Pull the dough out of the bowl and sprinkle more flour on top. It will be sticky and some will desperately want to stay with the bowl. Get what you can but don’t obsess over it. Form the dough into sort of a rectangular loaf shape. Fold it over a few times, still in the rectangle. Don’t worry too much about the shape; as long as it’s loaf-like it will be fine. Put the dough in a greased loaf pan, cover it with a towel, and let it rise for another 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Using a sharp knife, slice the top of the bread, just a little, down the middle from short end to short end. This will help the bread crack along a straight line and just looks nice. You can also brush the top of the loaf with an egg white wash if you want a glistening top, but I do without. Bake the loaf for 30-35 minutes. It should be nice and brown on the outside, and if you dump it out of the pan and knock on the bottom, it should sound hallow.

Storing the bread still has me a little stumped. If you leave it out, as die-hard bread makers suggest, it tends to get extremely hard. Still tasty, but hard. If you put it in a plastic bag, it definitely gets softer and chewier. If anyone figures out the best way to keep the bread fresh, let me know. In the meantime, enjoy the bread. As well as the impressed looks you’ll get from family and friends. Hmmm, maybe that’s the best part…

(Click here for printable recipe)

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