Wednesday, July 9, 2008

No-Knead Bread

I love fresh crusty, artisian style bread. Especially for sandwiches. So when I got my Dutch oven, I decide to try my hand on baking the adapted version of NY Times' of Jim Lahey's of Sullivan Street Bakery recipe. To date, I've also tried Alton Brown's recipe. Ingredients and method are very close between the two. Even Cook's Illustrated (CI) has an "almost" no-knead bread (that's next on the list to try). The CI recipe adds lager and vinegar, very interesting and it might provide some very good flavor. CI also has some good information for substituting a heavy stockpot for those who don't have a Dutch oven.

Since NYT's and Alton's recipes are so similar, I won't double up on the pictures except for the final products. Actually, I forgot to take a picture of NYT dough but as I recall, the initial dough after mixing was a bit more "wetter" than Alton's but just a tad.

I haven't been consistent on the exact time for the first resting stage (after mixing all the ingredients) but I always let the dough rest for at least 18 hours and as much as 21 hours. This recipe, or dough rather, is very forgiving. For Alton's, I did let it sit for about 19 hours.

This is what the dough looked like after being removed from the bowl, punched down, folded under, dusted with corn meal (to prevent sticking). Sorry there's so much glare in the pictures (now you know why I don't take a whole lot of pictures). Recommendation here is to use lots of flour and/or cornmeal or wheat bran, especially if you're using the towel method. I like to use my Exopat (same stuff as a Silpat), works great! I loosely covered it with plastic wrap and then covered with a towel.

Here's what the dough looked like after 2.5 hours of rising. You can see that it's doubled in size.

Dough Doubled in Size after 2nd Rising

I found that 2 hours just wasn't enough in my kitchen and it takes about 2 1/2 hours to 3 hours for it to double.

Then baked according to instructions and letting the final product sit for the required amount. It's important to let the bread sit and cool for the given amount of time to let the crust "settle." You'll hear the crust crackle and snap (ah, makes my mouth water). Here's what the NYT's bread looked like right out of the oven/DO.

NYT's NK Bread

This loaf was Alton Brown's recipe. Sorry the color is bad in the photo, I forgot to turn off the undercounter light. The Alton's crust is a bit lighter in color and not as hard. The very first bread I baked using the adapted NYT recipe created a very hard crust, almost too hard to bite through. So lessons learned, I like a lighter crust that's still crusty but more chewy by adjusting the baking time as 27 minutes covered and then 25 minutes uncovered. You will need to adjust according to your oven and your preference on crust.

Alton Brown's NK Bread

As you can see, the result is a wonderfully holey bread that looks like it came from a bakery. The taste is wonderfully rustic. I have not tried adding flavor enhancing ingredients (herbs, cheese, etc.) but have read on food forums that the dough works great with additions. We have enjoyed many paninis using this bread.
At this point, I prefer Alton's recipe even though the taste is pretty much the same. I don't know if it's because I made Alton's after having more experience with handling the dough but I found it to be a little easier (go figure since they are so close). But I do recommend NYT's adapted version rather than the original Lahey's recipe because the taste is much better due to more salt. Lahey's bread is somewhat flavorless and you should be able to taste a hint of salt in a good rustic bread.
BTW, that knife next to the bread is a Mac Bread Knife and I highly recommend it (even if it wasn't CI's first choice but then many people on knife forums don't agree with CI's review of bread knives). Also, Korin is having it's annual summer knife sale through July 31st, 15% off all knives! If you don't have a good bread knife (a recommended knife staple in any cook's kitchen), consider picking this one up with the discount. Too bad I've promised I wouldn't buy any more knives for a while (darn).
Now go bake some bread and eat well!


Sean Dietrich said...

God, that bread looks good!

Barefoot Plumies said...

Hi Sean! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. And it does taste as good as it looks. I have to admit I'm not known for homebaked breads but I am convinced anyone can make good bread with this recipe. Hope you'll try it sometime.

Darren said...

I keep burning this. The second time I made it I followed the instructions and the top and bottom burned but the inside was perfect. Any tips? should I bake uncovered for a shorter amount of time or turn down the heat, or what?

Barefoot Plumies said...

Hi Darren and thanks for stopping by. You didn't mention which recipe you were using but my first guess would be to turn down your oven a bit.

I found that baking at a consistent 450 degrees (like Lahey's and Alton Brown's instructions) browned the crust too much for my liking. The crust turns out very hard and I tend to get dark, almost burnt areas on the bottom sides.

Cook Illustrated and Breadtopia use preheating at 500 degrees and then turning the oven down to either 425 or 450 after putting the dough in the DO.

I've had much better luck using this method but through tweaking with the temperature and the baking times, I like the crust best when I preheat at 500 degrees, then turn down to between 425-450 (probably around 435) after putting in the dough into the oven. I bake for about 30 minutes with the lid on and then another 15-20 minutes with the lid off until the internal temp reaches 210 degrees.

So maybe CI and Breadtopia's method might work better for you, too. You'll most likely have to tweak temp and time to get the crust you like best. Your oven and the type of DO will have some effect too.

One last note, don't remove the lid too early or else it'll take much longer for the internal temp to reach 210 degrees. (ask me how I know that!) Good luck and let me know if this works for you.

Darren said...

I've been using the NYT version, but plan to try the Cooks Illustrated this weekend, as soon as I have some beer in the house. The Cooks Illustrated recipe calls for a light lager, but I might try a dark one.

Do you know how long this bread will keep? If I make it Tuesday and don't cut into it will it still be good on Thanksgiving?

Barefoot Plumies said...

Hi Darren, I wonder if a dark lager would certain give more depth in flavor. Certainly worth a try!

The loaf should keep for 2 days without refrigeration with no problem. If you don't wrap it, the crust will get pretty hard. I recommend wrapping it completely with plastic. This will make the crust a little soft but then you can just pop it in the oven (375 degrees) to crisp it up (about 10 minutes).

I can keep a loaf for about a week in an air-tight container on the counter. You can also freeze it (wrap in plastic then foil) up to 3 months. I've read that bread freezes better after being sliced but no first hand experience yet.

I am planning on making some rustic rolls this weekend using a CI recipe and then freezing it for Thanksgiving. I'm hoping this works.

Let me know what you end up doing and how it worked out!

Barefoot Plumies said...

One other thought, Darren. Since you only need to keep the loaf for 2 days, you can also put it in a paper bag. Then if needed, re-crisp in the oven. If you want to heat up the entire loaf, go lower on the temp, around 250 degrees for 15 minutes.

Just a side note that some people don't recommend wrapping bread in plastic/foil because it ruins the crust. I agree that the crust is no longer...crusty. But I resolve that by crisping in the oven and it turns out great for me. Just a thought.