Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Our Daily Bread

I've been doing a lot of baking lately. It started with the famous no-knead bread recipe and has been blossoming from there. I love to eat bread, slathered with butter or jam, with balsamic vinegar, baked with cheese, or sometimes just plain, so I figure I should figure a little bit out about making it myself.

My first foray out of no-knead territory was to try Cooks Illustrated's "Almost No-Knead Bread" recipe, which purports to have better flavor, and a more consistent shape & texture than the flamboyantly unpredictable (but startlingly low-fuss) variety. The food scientists over at CI pinpointed two main variables that made true no-knead not quite perfect: moisture content (too high = difficult to work with the dough), and flavor (not bready enough). So, they reduce the moisture ratio and add in two key ingredients: beer and vinegar, to fake the yeasty flavors that supposedly develop in more sophisticated artesenal baking processes.

FYI, CI says to use light lagers only (e.g. Bud) because these beers are fermented near the bottom of the tank with yeast that work at lower temperatures which means they develop more subtle "bready" tastes rather than fruity or spicy flavors that develop from esthers and phenols in ale.

Hey-ne-way, the loaf turned out beautifully:

But woefully the flavor wasn't that great (it was pretty bland, actually), the crust wasn't as good as my usual no-knead crust, it turned rather dry after a day, and it took longer to make!

I loved the research that went into this recipe and I might try again, out of respect for all the work that went into its development, but I have to say, I was a little disappointed.

Almost (good) no-knead bread -- from Cooks Illustrated
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp water, room temp
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp mild flavored lager
1 tbsp vinegar

1) whisk flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Using rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours.

2) Lay 12- by 18-inch sheet of parchment paper inside 10-inch skillet and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead 10 to 15 times. Shape dough into ball by pulling edges down into middle. Transfer dough, seam-side down, to parchment-lined skillet and spray surface of dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with finger about 2 hours.

3) About 30 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place 6- to 8-quart heavy-bottomed Dutch oven (with lid) on rack, and head oven to 500 degrees. Lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or sharp knife, make one 6-inch long, 1/2 inch deep slit along top of dough. Carefully remove pot from oven and remove lid. Pick up dough by lifting parchment overhang and lower into pot (let any excess parchment hang over pot edge). Cover pot and place in oven. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30 minutes Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 210 degrees, 20 to 30 minutes loner. Carefully remove bread from pot; transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.

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