September 27, 2012

Basic No-Knead Bread Recipe

   One of my favorite small pleasures in life is taking a bite of really good bread, particularly if I've used it to sop up a little something from my dinner plate. Buying a nice loaf of crusty bread, though, can be quite hit or miss. My local grocery store wouldn't know a baguette if one hit them in the face and sang Frère Jacques- their "baguettes" are a soft and bland.

A nice, big boule.

   But I don't buy that bread anymore because I learned how to make my own at home. I tried a lot of recipes and made a lot of mistakes. Then, I received a wonderful book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day as a gift. I learned a ton about baking bread and why my previous trials had turned out poorly. I use their Master Recipe quite often for a basic bread that's good for any occasion.

   I highly recommend their book for those of you who are looking to try baking bread at home but aren't sure where to start. There are tons of different kinds of bread for you to try, too. It doesn't take very long to make the dough, and there is no kneading necessary!

Basic Bread
from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
makes 4, 1lb loafs

What You'll Need:
   3 cups lukewarm water
   1 Tbs granulated yeast
   1 Tbs salt
   6 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
   a large container, preferably with a lid

The Process:
    Put your warm water, yeast, and salt into your container. Dump all the flour in at once and mix well. I prefer to do this step with a wooden spoon, but if you have a fancy mixer with dough hook, feel free to go that route. Once all the flour is incorporated, you'll be left with a wet, sticky dough. This is exactly what you want. Loosely cover with your lid (or plastic wrap in a pinch) and let rise for two hours.

   If you're making your bread later, put into the refrigerator, loosely covered. You can make some bread immediately, but because this dough is wet, it's easier to handle and shape the loaf after it's chilled. When you're ready to bake, cut off a 1 lb piece of the dough. You may want to dust your hands a bit to prevent any sticking.

   Form the dough into a ball and place onto a floured pizza peel to rest for 40 minutes. Letting it rest longer is ok, but it won't rise very much during this stage. That's normal.

   Preheat your oven to 450 degrees with your baking stone in place and a metal pan (not glass!) on the rack underneath. If you don't have a baking stone, you can place it on a cookie sheet, but the bottom will not be as crisp. After it's rested, slash the dough several times across the top, in any design that strikes your fancy. Make sure they're not too shallow, about 1/4" deep.

   Transfer the dough to the baking stone with the pizza peel and pour a cup of hot water into the metal pan you placed under the baking stone. The steam from this water is what gives the outside that nice crispiness. You can omit it if you prefer a less crunchy exterior. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown on the outside.

   Take your bread out of the oven, and place it on a cooling rack. Now here's the hardest part of the process- don't mess with it. It's incredibly tempting to tear that delicious bread loaf open but don't! It needs time to rest to finish cooking inside. If you cut it up immediately, the inside will still be gummy. Wait until it is room temperature, about 4 hours, before cutting.

   If you want to serve the bread warm after this cool down phase, you absolutely still can. Before slicing, heat your oven up to 400 degrees. Place the loaf inside the oven and then turn it off. Take the loaf out after about ten minutes, slice, and serve.

   Store any unused dough in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Happy bread making!

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