Perfect beginner’s bread – in a saucepan, of all things.

May 2, 2014 at 10:51 pm Leave a comment

no knead bread

I’ve always envied bread bakers.

As someone who had never never had much luck with bread, I was daunted by it. I first learnt to knead with clay, where the aim is to knead the air out, so my few attempts at dough were about as dense as my early clay experiments. However the simplicity of this recipe, and the no-knead approach, called to me. Just flour, water, salt and yeast. And it really does seem fail proof!

I won’t pretend this is anything new, but it’s new to me, and it’s so exciting that I feel compelled to write about it. No knead bread, sourdough style, artisan bread, 5 minute bread, fail-proof bread, its many names reflect its popularity.

artisan bread

This loaf sports an accidental patina of flour from the tea towel it was left to rise in.

It started with this recipe in the NY Times for no knead bread. I stumbled across that a couple of years ago and really wanted to try it, but as we don’t have a crock pot, I sighed and moved on. Until recently when I read about alternatives to the sturdy crock pot, including the humble saucepan*. So it’s called Saucepan Bread here instead.

This is Jim Lahey’s recipe, it’s beautifully simple;

3 cups plain flour
1/4 tsp yeast
1 1/4 tsp salt
400 ml tepid water.

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Three simple ingredients, measured out. 3c flour, 1/4t yeast, heaped t of salt.

Curiously we happened to have a packet of yeast in the cupboard. I’m not sure if it was hiding there when we moved in, or if it’s one of those things that cupboards create by themselves, the way floorboards breed dust bunnies. Somehow opening the packet was one of ‘those’ moments for me. A threshold experience. In the same way that receiving your kid’s first school report card makes you feel that, yes, undeniably, you must really be a grown up now, if your own children are getting report cards. Yeast somehow seems like Serious Cook Stuff. Scary.

It’s not really. Scary, that is.

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Dry ingredients mixed together, water at the ready. No need to stress over the water temp, it doesn’t have to be precisely 37.45 C, but slightly warm will help kick start your fermentation.

Mix the dry things together, then add water. It looks like a scruffy mess and like surely you’ve added too much water, but don’t fret, it’s supposed to. Keep stirring until it all comes together. Now cover it, leave it in a warm spot and go do something else. For 8-18 hours, ish.

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Just mixed and somewhat scruffy. I threw in potato and rosemary at the last moment. This mix is a little bit wetter than usual. No matter.

By the time you’ve gone about your business for a day, or had a good solid sleep (unless you too have small children, in which case odds are you snatch sleep in all-too-short snippets..) and done half a day’s worth of whatever, it should be ready for the next phase. Again following the flexible nature of this recipe, don’t stress too much over the timing. The flavour will ripen as it ferments, but I’ve turned it out after 5 hours, and after 24, it was good either way.

By now, the dough should be looking quite different. Bigger and sort of bubbly on top.

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18 hours and it’s risen enough to grab hold of the parchment I was using to cover the bowl. The high water content allows the gluten to really do its thing.

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A closer look would show little bubbles just under the surface. Yeast produces carbon dioxide as it ferments, which creates the rise.

When you’re ready for phase 2, scrape the sides of the gloop down, and plop it onto a well floured surface. Stretch it out a bit if you want to, fold it in half, or just fold the edges over until it makes a nice blob. This gives the yeast new fuel and sets the reaction off again, creating new bubbles, a second rise. I usually try to tuck the scruffy bits underneath so that the stretched side is on the top like a parachute. Flour the outside well. Cover lightly with cling film, a tea towel or an upturned bowl, and let it rise again.

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Rising again. When turned out and reshaped, the yeast can feed on previously undiscovered sugar molecules, creating the second rise. Almost ready for the oven. Well, maybe another hour, it’s cold today.

After another 2 hours it should have puffed up again. 30 mins before you’re ready to bake, crank your oven up to 230C (450F) and put your container-of-choice, in my case a trusty saucepan, in to preheat. When using a saucepan, be leery of plastic knobs or handles unless you are sure they can take the heat. It will be seriously toasty in there. Or possibly melty or burny if you happen to use an unsuitable knob. Caveat baker.

I keep a circle of baking paper in the bottom to help avoid sticking, but this isn’t essential, extra flour on the bottom should help avoid any potential sticking.

When you’ve reached full temperature, don your oven mitts or gird your arms in tea towels, pull the saucepan out and flip your dough ball in. Whisk it back into the oven as fast as you can.

Bake for 30 mins with the lid on, then another 15-30 with the lid off until it gets nice and golden.

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The smell of baking bread fills the whole house. It’s almost worth it for that smell alone.

Remove from oven, run around the sides with a knife if need be, decant bread onto cooling rack, and then burn your fingers and tongue trying to eat a slice right away. (Possibly this step isn’t essential either..) It is easier to cut when it’s cool, if you can wait that long.

bread4

This is the second loaf, the first one was wolfed down before I had a chance to grab the camera. Even this one didn’t make 12 hours old. There is something about fresh baked bread that seems to bring out the piranha in all of us.

bread1

This particular loaf came out with wings/ears/fins/love handles from a precipitous swan dive into the pot. They were nice and crunchy. Sometimes disasters turn out to be the best bits.

I may still be ignorant in the ways of bread, but inspired by this technique, I now plan to some day tackle a true sourdough. To anyone else who has never baked their own loaf of bread, I hope the simplicity and forgiving nature of this recipe makes you at least a bit curious. Chances are you’ll find it a very rewarding experience.

*Other containers that apparently work include Pyrex dishes with fitting lids, Dutch ovens, aluminium foil if you don’t have a fitting lid, even a pizza stone with a stainless steel bowl overturned on it to keep the moisture in. The important thing is to have a contained environment so that the bread is moist inside and crusty outside. And that it is sufficiently hot. Crank your oven!

 

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