Sunday, January 18, 2009

With Which To Wow

Back to that bread, the five-minute, no-knead, there-is-no-way-it-can-be-any-good bread.

It is good and I recommend it, but, blast it all, it confounds me! It has made me feel unstable, like my world has been turned upside down and all the truths I hold dear are no longer worth two cents. But here it stands, a delicious bread, happily disregarding the most sacred of bread-baking truths. It is a bread so simple it makes me feel stupid.


That said, this bread, though quite excellent, is not the be-all and end-all. I will continue to make the standard knead-and-rise yeast breads. I will still make my sourdough breads, probably within the next couple days.

Because despite the fact that this bread is called an artisan bread, it doesn’t strike me as being totally authentic, and even though the flavor is pleasing, it doesn’t have the depth of integrity that I associate with sourdoughs. Although every loaf of sourdough doesn’t necessarily have an overpowering sour flavor, they do have a strength about them, a presence, if you will. Kind of like a wrinkly old lady who makes a kick-butt chow-chow, dons a floppy sunhat and a pair of men’s oversized rubber boots when she works in her gardens, and decorates her kitchen with a simple bouquet of wild flowers stuffed haphazardly into a mason jar. Reassuring, uncompromising, able-bodied, and earthy—that’s sourdough.

The five-minute bread is like a Birkenstock-wearing, soy-milk-drinking, Peace Corps volunteer living in West Africa, just a few anemic cacti lining the edge of the dirt yard.

Um, whatever.


Bread personifications and personal bewilderment aside, this is the ideal bread for anyone who breaks out in a sweat and starts biting their nails when they hear mentioned the word “yeast”. It’s a good bread for kids to learn with. It’s a good bread with which to wow your guests. It’s a good bread with which to wow yourself.

So now, go forth into the world, ye Bread Bakers, mix up some dough, with a spoon, yea verily, and do not knead it. Yay.


Five-Minute Bread
Adapted from the article in MotherEarthNews.com, emailed to me by my girlfriend Laurel.

For the first few batches of dough, I recommend using all white flour and then gradually adding the whole wheat so you have a bottom line from which to deviate.

I have not detected a sourdough flavor, though I have yet to keep the dough in the fridge for the full two weeks.

It takes a long time to bake, as in 40-60 minutes. Don’t be afraid to get the crust a nice dark brown color—the inside doesn’t seem to dry out at all. And the bread is best when it’s had a chance to cool for at least thirty minutes; otherwise, it is so moist it’s almost doughy.

A lump of dough makes a spectacular pizza crust. (Update, March 17, 2009: This is now my favorite pizza dough. One batch of this dough makes three large pizza crusts. I like to make two large pizzas for supper and save the leftover dough in the fridge for when I want to make a fast breakfast pizza, or a simple focaccia for an afternoon snack or a lazy Sunday supper.)

3 cups warm water
1 ½ tablespoons yeast
1 tablespoon salt
6 ½ cups white bread flour

Stir together the yeast and water and let rest for about ten minutes. Add the salt and flour and stir until incorporated. Cover the bowl with a towel and let the dough rise till about double. At this point you may bake if you wish, or you may put a shower cap over the container and set it in the fridge, for up to two weeks, cutting off hunks of dough when needed.

(Do not wash your bread bowl when you mix up the next batch of dough; simply stir the leftover bits and pieces of the dough into the new batch—that’s supposed to help it to get a deeper flavor more quickly.)

When you are ready to bake: Cut off a hunk of dough, whatever size you wish, roughly lump it into a ball and set it on a bread board, or cutting board, that has been heavily sprinkled with cornmeal. Sprinkle flour over the loaf, slash it a couple times, and allow it to rest uncovered for 30-45 minutes. (It may be better to slash it immediately before baking, after the rest period, but I’m still testing that one out.)

Place your baking stone on the bottom rack of your oven, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees. When the oven is hot, spritz it heavily with water, slide the loaf from the board onto the hot stone, spritz the oven again, and shut the door. Spritz the oven two more times in the next five minutes, and then keep the oven shut for the next fifteen minutes at which point you can check the loaf and rotate it as needed. Continue baking the loaf for about a total of 45-60 minutes, or until it is dark brown all over.

19 comments:

  1. I've been waiting for the recipe. We'll be trying it here this week.

    Kate

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  2. Just curious,

    Do you use Hi-gluten or Occident flour?

    S-

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  3. Thank you for this! I am going to give it a try once I pick up some white bread flour. I do have a couple questions. First, I do not have a baking stone- if I use a baking sheet, do I still put it on the bottom rack of the oven? Secondly, my oven has a fan, that I always use to help things bake more evenly- do I leave the fan off? Thanks, JJ:-).

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  4. S, I used occident bread flour.

    ThyHand, I don't know how it would turn out with a baking sheet. I probably wouldn't put it on the bottom rack, and I'd leave the fan on, but I suspect that even so it will have a greater chance of burning so watch it closely. Do report back and tell how it turned out.

    -JJ

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  5. Thanks for tweaking and sharing. I tried it first thing this morning, unearthing my spritz bottle and resurrecting my pizza stone. It was well worth the (minimal) effort; my household and I unanimously rated the loaf "delicious." One question: Is it normal for the dough to be so wet and sticky and sprawling (i.e. nearly unmanageable)? I forget what you told me. -ME

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  6. ME,

    When the dough is fresh, it is quite wet, but once it has chilled in the fridge it is much easier to handle. And I forgot to say that the measurements are fairly exact---make sure you avoid pouring and dumping so that you get the correct proportions. But yes, it is a wet dough, much more so than regular bread dough.

    -JJ

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  7. JJ,

    Just mixed up the dough. My question is do I need to punch down the dough before it goes in the fridge? If I don't, I fear I'd have a whopper of a mess.

    Also, I have this unexplained fear of completely white bread...so I had to put a cup of ww in it. Please forgive me.

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  8. Zoe,

    Go ahead and punch it down some, but it will still rise in the fridge. Just make sure you have it in a really big container and then check it every once in a while for the next few hours after putting it in the fridge.

    I understand your fear of all-white bread. One cup of whole-wheat is a good conscience-appeaser.

    -JJ

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  9. Ok, I ate my first of this bread last night (3 slices of it). I baked two small loaves and put the rest of the dough in the fridge. I baked the loaves on a cookie sheet on the middle rack, spritzed the oven with water only at the beginning, had my oven fan on, baked it for 30 minutes and waited 30 minutes to eat it. It was reeeaaally good. Crunchy crust, but not break your teeth crunchy. Moist and chewy inside. I'm saving the second loaf for pesto and roasted tomato panini sandwiches. Thanks, JJ.

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  10. I just made this bread, and its quite good. I was surprised! =) Can you suggest a size of container to keep it in in the fridge? Also, have you ever tried halving the recipe?

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    1. For in the fridge: at least a gallon-sized container, maybe two. It should be no trouble to halve the recipe. Go for it!

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  11. Hello. I arrived here looking for a simple pizza dough recipe for a beginner and I don't think I found it. It doesn't get much simpler than what you've described here.

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  12. This is similar to no-knead bread but the cooking directions are different. I may just try using this for some cinnamon rolls and see what happens.

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    1. Anonymous have you tried the cinnamon rolls yet? How did they turn out?

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  13. Mama JJ,
    I have yet to try making bread since it scares the daylights out of me, but your recipe sounds so simple. I have just a quick question...can i use all purpose flour for this recipe or does the flour have to be specifically bread flour?

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    1. Hi Amber,

      You can use all-purpose flour, but it won't have as much gluten and therefore won't be quite as chewy nor will it rise as well. Bread flour can be found in any grocery store---any you don't use can be stored in the freezer.

      Don't be scared of bread making! It's just yeast and flour. What's the worst that can happen? If it bombs, toss it and start over. It won't bite!

      Good luck!

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  14. Is this supposed to be a REALLY WET dough, or did I do something wrong?

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    Replies
    1. Um...how wet is "really wet?" The dough is too wet to touch without sticking to your fingers. Once it's been in the fridge for several hours, it gets stiff and is much easier to work with. I flour it good, but without kneading the flour into the dough.

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  15. I have been using this as my go-to pizza dough for a long time now, but finally made it up as a bread tonight. I put it all in one great big megaloaf, I messed up the transfer from the board to the oven, I was certain it would collapse under its own weight/my incompetent handling...and it was divine. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE? This bread has no right to work at all, and it works so well. I don't get it.

    I'm happily flummoxed, I guess.

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