Thursday, April 2, 2009
I am one of those home cooks that is constantly at odds with yeast. I love baking bread, don’t get me wrong, but it seems to be a thankless and everlasting exercise in futility. My yeast never blooms, my dough never rises, and I never wind up with fluffy, airy loaves of bread. Rather, I’m an expert at creating hard chunks of flour-based rocks that sink like lead blocks.
In my world, baking bread is the cause of most of the violence in my household. I occasionally take out my aggression on puff pastry or pie crust, but I’ve been known to punch the daylights out of a piece of unleavened dough, kneading it to a bloody pulp, yielding not a tasty loaf of homespun goodness, but an unrecognizable hunk of shattered hopes and dreams. I’ve even read the Miranda rights to an unbaked pile of dough, hoping to instigate a fair and balanced resolution to crimes beyond my control. Of course, the bread never rose to the occasion and I stealthily disposed of its ashes in my trash.
When I saw Mark Bittman’s article on Speedy No-Knead Bread in the New York Times, I had to take a step back and scratch my head. The yeast doesn’t have to bloom? No starter necessary? Is it possible that bread baking could be…gulp…easy and fool proof? The recipe has become something of a technological phenomenon, spreading like light-speed wildfire through the online community, inspiring droves of home cooks and bakers.
This recipe is indeed so easy that even an evil wizard of apocalyptic and profitless bread baking could do it. Let a simple mixture of yeast, salt, flour and water proof in a bowl for a few hours, yielding wet and sticky dough. Bake, first covered, then uncovered, in a pre-heated cast-iron pot. The result is crunchy, golden crust with a soft, chewy, light interior. The sublimely perfect artisanal loaf has an airy, open texture that’s simultaneously dense, chewy and moist. Never again will bread baking doldrums rule my world!
3 cups bread flour
1 packet ( 1/4 ounce) instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Oil as needed.
1. Combine flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups water and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest about 4 hours at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
2. Lightly oil a work surface and place dough on it; fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest 30 minutes more.
3. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6-to-8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under dough and put it into pot, seam side up. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.
4. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Yield: 1 big loaf.