Sunday, August 17, 2014
No-knead bread -- not there yet
During our family reunion week in July, my sister-in-law whipped up a batch of bread dough, as has been her hobby for the last couple of years. It tasted so good -- and looked so easy -- that Zoe and I decided we needed to try it at home.
In the early years of my marriage I made all our bread, but the old-fashioned way, with kneading. I always thought kneading was the best part of breadmaking; I liked the zen and the rhythm and feeling the dough change under your hands. But in the last couple of years I have been reading about the new approach, in which you don't have to knead at all. This recipe originated with Jim Lahey, a New York baker, and was made famous by Mark Bittman in the New York Times. And it's the approach that my sister-in-law has been using to huge success.
So we decided to try the recipe. It calls for only a quarter-teaspoon of yeast (compared to more than 2 teaspoons in my old faithful recipe) but you let it rise overnight, at least 12 hours and preferably 18. Hardly any work to stir up a batch of dough and set it aside on a corner, and sure enough, the next day it had little bubbles all over, just as the recipe said.
But then our paths diverged. The recipe said, "using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball."
That sounded like a quarter-cup or less of flour would be plenty, so we put that on the counter and turned the dough onto it. Zoe was elected to "shape the dough into a ball." It was kind of like "shaping" chocolate pudding into a ball. We sprinkled more flour onto the dough and over her hands but it took five minutes to scrape the goo off her hands and back into the dough.
Next we were supposed to turn the dough onto a tea towel to rise. This would allow us to use the towel as a support to flip the dough into a covered pot to bake. Two problems: the dough didn't rise very much, and when we tried to "flip" it into the pot, it stayed stuck to the tea towel. We pulled out our trusty butter knife again to scrape the dough off the towel (which incidentally put holes into the towel).
The bread turned out quite nice, although it wasn't as good the next day as it had been straight out of the oven.
I think I'll give this method a few more tries, but with serious modifications to the process. For instance, I think I'll eliminate the tea towel and put the dough into a greased bowl for its second rising, just as I used to do with my old-fashioned kneaded bread. That way it can be turned into the pot with a flick of the wrist.