Friday, November 25, 2011

No-Knead Harvest Bread

One of the things I miss the most from France is bread. Good bread. Real bread. Artisan-style bread. Freshly-baked bread.

I never thought of baking my own until my expat friends started raving about the New York Times no-kneadbread recipe. What a revelation! Who knew you could get crusty, chewy, homemade bread with minimal efforts or skills! All you need is a little time and the right vessel to bake it in, it must have a lid and be heavy-duty, such as a Dutch oven or a clay crock.

I have made no-knead bread numerous times and have tweaked the recipe and technique over time. In this version, I added dried cranberries, golden raisins and walnuts for a fall loaf that works perfectly with leftover turkey, goat cheese, cranberry sauce and a few greens. It's also excellent in a brie-pear grilled panini... or by itself with a pat of butter or a schmear of cream cheese.

Makes one large loaf
  • 2 cups bread flour + more for dusting = 260 g de farine à pain + un peu plus pour saupoudrer
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour = 140 g de farine complète
  • ¼ teaspoon active dry yeast = ¼ cuillère à café (1.5 g) de levure de boulanger déshydratée
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt = 1 ¼ cuillère à café de sel
  • 1 5/8 cups (13 fl. oz.) water = 385 ml d'eau
  • Olive oil = huile d'olive
  • ½ cup dried cranberries = 75 g de cranberries
  • ½ cup golden raisins = 75 g de raisins secs
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts = 50 à 75 g de noix concassées

In a large bowl combine flours, yeast and salt. Add water and stir with a wooden spoon until blended. Dough will be shaggy and very sticky. Incorporate dried fruits and nuts into the dough. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let rest at least 12 hours, preferably 16 to 18 hours, at room temperature, about 70 degrees.

Dough is ready when its surface is beautifully dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it, sprinkle with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface and to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a large bowl with olive oil or baking spray, put dough seam side down in the bowl and dust with a little more flour. Cover with a cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. Don't necessarily expect the dough to double in size (especially if using whole-wheat flour) but it should definitely expand.

About 20 minutes before dough is ready, put an empty 4 to 6 quart covered pot (enameled cast-iron cookware, such as Le Creuset, work best) in oven. Preheat to 450ºF/230ºC.

When dough is ready, carefully remove hot pot from oven. Dump dough into pot, seam side up. Shake once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed but don't worry, it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake for 30-35 minutes, remove lid and bake another 10-20 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a wire rack. Enjoy!

Alternative method:
Some pots may crack as they sit empty in the hot oven. To prevent any issue, you can place the dough directly into the baking pot, before its last rise. Make sure you grease the pot with olive oil or cooking spray first. Let rise for 2 hours. When ready to bake, place in the cold oven and preheat to 450ºF, reduce total baking time by about 5 minutes.

I, personally, get a better crust and bread texture with the original method but I encourage you to experiment as every oven is different. You will also notice that bread containing whole-wheat flour will not rise as much and may require an additional 5 to 10 minutes to fully bake. Internal temperature in the center of a loaf should register between 190ºF (for white bread) to 205ºF (for denser bread such as whole-wheat or rye).

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