03 June 2011

A Crust Of Bread

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.” - Robert Browning

I must confess that I still haven't let you in on one of my passions and not because it is so simple and mundane but because I've been trying to keep it to myself, this love for baking of mine.

A house in which the stove is cold is not a home
My grandmother is known for saying that a house in which the stove is cold is not a home. She, as every grandmother in the world is the best cook you would meet. From salads to rabbit stews, she can do it all, no complaints, no whimpering, no failures. Grandma learned from her mother to bake. And, my God, she bakes the most amazing breads.

I remember once when I was in my early twenties she even pretended that I had baked a certain bread in front of the friends that have come to the Sunday dinner, while I had in fact just helped. I will never forget the shame I felt when they asked me about the proportions. At the time I had spent a lifetime looking at her baking - in the kitchen around her every time, helping. But I had never actually performed the whole ritual by myself so of course, I couldn't repeat neither the ingredients, nor the proportions. Thankfully, my obvious lack of knowledge went unnoticed but that day I promised myself to start baking.

The secret of life
So when several years later I started my own family, the urge to make bread quickly grew unbearable and I began with the experiments. The first breads were hard, thick and bland but my husband gracefully praised them and I am so thankful for his patience which helped me develop not only my baking but my creativity as well.  Cakes, cookies, muffins, pies, breads, scones, you name it, I went through it all with the passion of a young bride who had grown up with the belief that you don't hold the secret of life if you cannot bake your own bread.

In these times of exploration I stumbled upon a fabulous recipe which will make even a beginner look like a pro baker. It is the bread from my childhood and has the specific aroma and the amazing crust that you can get only in a small village bakery. You don't need to be a master chef to bake that bread, it is extraordinarily easy to prepare! So, here it comes, in all its glory, the recipe for no-knead bread, adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery, New York City!

But before that, another confession - I don't actually use precise measures, so most of my baking and cooking go with the flow, if you know what I mean; it is directly proportionate to my mood, so what I love about this recipe in particular is that it measures everything in cups. But don't worry, as long as you stick to the same cup throughout the whole process, everything should be fine!
Photo: steffanyf
No-Knead Bread
  • 3 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping dough
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast (such as Fleischmann's RapidRise brand)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt 
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons tepid water
  • Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed 

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 of the water and add the sugar. I always do that even with instant yeast, just in case. Then combine it with the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the rest of the water and stir until blended.

The dough will be shaggy and very sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let it rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18 hours, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles.
Turn it out on a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle it with a little more flour. Fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for about 15 more minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape it into a ball. Generously dust a cotton (not terry cloth) kitchen towel with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal, put the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another kitchen towel and let rise for 2 to 3 hours. When it is ready, the dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

At least 30 minutes before the dough is ready, preheat your oven to 230 degrees. Put a heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic; anywhere from 31/2 quarts to 6 or 8 quarts) in the oven as it heats. When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven. Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that's OK.

Shake the pan once or twice if the dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until the loaf is nicely browned. Cool on a rack.

Here is a very helpful video on the subject which will answer most of your questions but if you still have any, I am waiting for them!

Now tell me, do you like baking bread? Have you already tried this recipe and what do you think about it?