low-carb backlash

This weekend I finally got around to trying the No-Knead Bread 2.0 from the latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated. The recipe is Cook’s effort at improving upon the No-Knead Bread recipe from Mark Bittman and Jim Lahey in The New York Times last year. The original recipe’s brilliance was it’s incredible simplicity. Quickly mix flour, water, salt and yeast; let the shaggy, wet dough rest on the counter over night, shape the wet mass into as much of a ball as you can, dump it in a hot dutch oven and bake. The result is a beautiful, round loaf with a holey crumb and a crackling crust. No-Knead bread was all over the internet; people who had never baked bread before were producing loaves that looked artisan quality.

No Knead Bread v 2.0

The Cook’s recipe is kind of a misnomer, because this bread requires some (but very little) kneading. Although the original NYT‘s recipe produced a beautiful loaf, I agree with the folks at Cook’s that the flavor was a little flat. Looking to rectify the original bread’s flavor short-comings, the Cook’s recipe includes two additional ingredients: beer and white vinegar. The flavor of the Cook’s version is much richer. Because I’m crazy, I made both the all-white version and the whole wheat variety (which also includes a tablespoon of honey). Both varieties had better flavor than all of my attempts with both the white and whole wheat versions of the original recipe. The Cook’s bread doesn’t taste of beer, really, but there is a pleasant, yeasty tang that was missing from the NYT’s bread.

Bread Crumb

Although Cook’s says its recipe produces a bread with an “airy crumb,” this was not the case with my bread today. Both the white and whole wheat loaves had a dense, tight crumb, unlike the open crumb of the original no-knead bread. Where the original bread has a crackling, thin crust, the Cook’s recipe produces a loaf with a thick, chewy crust that splits beautifully on top.

Besides the flavor, however, I think the biggest innovation in the Cook’s recipe is technical — the recipe has you create a “bread sling” using a piece of parchment paper. After kneading and shaping, the dough rises on the parchment paper sling in a shallow skillet, and you use the sling to transfer the bread directly into the Dutch oven. This method replaces Lahey and Bittman’s technique of lifting a wet mass of dough, on a kitchen towel covered in corn meal, and flipping it into a hot Dutch oven. It’s really brilliant and so much easier. You can use the bread sling technique with the original recipe as well.

Rising in SlingBaking in Oven

The Cook’s bread was delicious, and, so far, seems to be holding up better than the original version, which I always thought lost its luster a bit once it had been sliced into and wrapped on my counter for a few hours. I had some friends over for a New Year’s Day lunch, and everyone assumed I’d purchased the loaves at a local bakery, so the bread gets high marks for wow factor. All in all, I think it’s worth the kneading and the walk to my local liquor store to purchase a $1 single can of Budweiser. And, incidentally, if you haven’t yet picked up the January/February 2008 issue of Cook’s, you really should. So far, I’ve made three of the issue’s recipes — the bread, the “cheap cuts” roast beef and the thin and crispy oatmeal cookies — all were outstanding and totally worth the cover price.

Almost No-Knead Bread

Adapted from Cook’s Ilustrated, Jan/Feb 2008

3 cups (15 oz) AP flour, plus more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1 ½ teaspoons table salt
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons room temperature water
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons beer (lager)
1 tablesppon white vinegar

In a large bowl, whisk flour, yeast and salt. Add water, beer and vinegar and fold ingredients together with a rubber spatula until a shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature, 8 – 18 hours.

Set a 12 x 18” sheet of parchment paper in a 10” skillet. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead for 10 to 15 times. You’ll want to use as little extra flour as possible, just enough to keep the dough from sticking to your hands and the counter. Push the dough away from you with the heal of your hand, and pull it back on itself with the tips of your fingers. Repeat this motion, rotating the dough as you go.

Shape the dough into a ball by pulling the edges into the middle. Transfer the ball, seam side down, to the parchment lined skillet, cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for two hours.

About half an hour before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place a 6 – 8 quart Dutch oven (I’ve had success with a 5 quart oven), with lid,* on oven rack and heat the oven to 500º. Once the dough has risen, remove plastic wrap, dust the top of the loaf with a little flour and, using a sharp knife or razor blade, make a slit in the top of the dough, about ½” deep and 6” long. Remove the hot pot from the oven and carefully lower the dough, parchment sling and all, into the pot. Replace the lid and bake the bread at 425º for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake the bread 10 – 15 minutes more, until the loaf is deep brown and registers 210º on an instant-read thermometer. Allow the bread to cool on a wire rack for 2 hours before serving.

* The black, round handles on the newer Le Creuset Dutch ovens are not heat safe above 400º. You can either remove the handle by un-screwing it, or cover it with tin foil to protect it from the heat. I’ve use the latter method and had no problems.

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