Sunday, December 6, 2009

To Knead or Not to Knead....

...that is the question. LA Weekly's food blog, Squid Ink, featured a conversation piece with Jim Lahey, author who advocates a "no knead" approach to baking artisanal breads. The article offered his basic "No Knead" bread recipe, which I tried over the weekend. I was hesitant, I must admit. I mean, how many times, have you read a bread recipe and it instructed you to knead the bread for at least 10 minutes. I'm a fan of crusty, holey bread, that's the "crumb" I dig most and whenever I bake bread, I'm constantly trying to recreate it. I may have found my Picasso, my masterpiece in the recipe. The recipe calls for bread flour, but I used all purpose here. With the addition of some salt, cool water and yeast, I Incorporated these ingredients and covered with plastic wrap. For a minimum of 12 hours and Lahey encourages you to postpone step #2 for 18 hours, I left the dough alone to ferment slowly at room temperature.
This morning I awoke and continued with step #2, very gently removing the dough from the bowl, handling it at a minimum and allowing to rise yet again, covered, free form, in a flour-dusted cloth. About half an hour before it finished its second rise, I put my enameled cast iron Dutch oven in a 475 degree oven to heat up. Post the second rise, I transferred the dough carefully into the hot (and I mean STEAMING) Dutch oven and covered it. Baked it for 30 minutes, removed the top so it could develop a beautiful golden crust, for another 15 minutes and transferred to a cooling rack to cool, before slicing off a hunk and swirling honey on top.
The magic lies, yes, in not kneading, but also creating a natural steam environment, by baking it in a dutch oven or casserole. This basic recipe could lead to a cornucopia of additions, such as herbs, cheese, jalapenos, spices and what not. The possibilities are endless.

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