Browsing articles in "Yeast Doughs"
Apr 29, 2010

Marion Cunningham’s Raised Waffles

Oh, my God, you guys. Guess what I’m doing this weekend? Going away, with just the husband. Like, away from this house while Little C frolicks here with her visiting Gramma. During this weekend, I will be in a magical land called Napa wherein my towels, sheets and dishes will be washed by other people. I will also be eating only at restaurants (one extra fancy) and drinking lots of delicious alcohol in the name of “wine tasting”. I am so pumped. Please don’t hate me. I mean, I’d hate me, if it wasn’t…me.

Know what I did last weekend? I did laundry. And cleaned. And went to Fairyland. And made and cleaned up after about 100 meals. All well and good. But I’m thinking that even if there is a massive natural disaster, this Napa weekend will totally top last weekend. Except for the waffles I made on Sunday. They were ethereal, transcendent, these waffles. So even if you won’t be getting away for the weekend, whipping up a batch of these waffles will transport you, if only for breakfast time.

I give you Marion Cunningham’s storied Raised Waffles, people. And I mean the culinary goddess Marion Cunningham, not the mom from Happy Days. And someday I’ll tell you how many years I lived not realizing they were two separate people.

But ohhhh, these waffles. So light, so crisp, so not at all sweet as to perfect balance with a good dose of maple syrup. The yeast flavor is so unexpectedly delicious, like the best parts of waffles and brioche having a baby.

And the very best part is you start the batter the night before. All you have to do in the a.m. is whisk in some eggs and baking soda–super easy, even with just one with one eye open and one tiny person clinging to your PJ pants. Who will not be accompanying us this weekend as we eat lots of beautiful food and imbibe in one of the most gorgeous places in the planet. Okay, now I’m just sort of bragging.

Marion Cunningham’s Raised Waffles
Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible

There are a few blog posts out there that have less than raves about this recipe, but for me, I found my experience with them to be completely awesome and I’ll pass along what worked for me. First, follow the instructions to the letter. Don’t short the rise time on the counter–start these the night before or pick another waffle recipe if you can’t. The magic of these waffles is because of a long, overnight rise for crazy lightness and tons of flavor.

Know that these waffles do have a yeasty flavor and are not sweet at all, so don’t expect an Eggo. Also, I found a lot of people online complaining about how rich with butter these waffles were, so for fun, I cut the butter down to 5 tablespoons instead of a whole stick. They turned out beautifully. It also seems that those who have a Belgian-style waffle iron don’t have as much success–mine is a standard waffle iron, the kind with lots of little squares rather than a few larger wells. Make a full batch; the waffles freeze and reheat in the toaster beautifully.

Serves 6 to 8

1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups warm milk ((I think anything but skim would be fine here)
1/2 cup melted butter (I cut this amount down to 5 tablespoons, no problem)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

In the biggest mixing bowl you own (the batter will rise to double its original volume) sprinkle in the yeast over the warm water. Let stand to dissolve for 10 minutes. Add the milk, butter, salt, sugar, and flour and stir to blend. Give it a blast with a handheld mixer on a low speed for just a moment to really smooth it out–you don’t want any lumps. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature.

The next morning, just before cooking the waffles, whisk in the eggs and the baking soda–the batter will be very thin. Depending on the size of your waffle iron, pour about 1/3 to 1/2 cup batter onto the hot iron (use a light hand at first and check your progress–this waffle batter expands rather impressively. Bake until golden and crisp. This batter will keep for several days in the refrigerator.

Mar 12, 2010

Baked Doughnuts

Ahhhh…weekends. Otherwise known as the time I can work it OUT in the kitchen while my sweet Little C gets down with some Daddy time–preferably somewhere not all up in my area. So by, oh, say, Thursday, I get to thinking about what recipes I’m going to tackle over the weekend, what with all my wild, impending freedom and all. If you feel me here, then I hope you’ll make this awesome recipe for baked doughnuts your weekend project, too. If this scenario is completely foreign to you, and your weekend plans usually involve things like imbibing in a place that’s not your living room and then having a childless brunch the next day, well, a) tell me what that’s like, and b) these will be just the thing for you, too.

Now, I was a little wary of the concept of a baked doughnut at first. I mean, really, people, if you’re going to have a doughnut, just go for it, fried, glazey goodness and all, AMIRITE? Well, I was craving doughnuts something fierce on a recent weekend, and wanted to try making some from scratch. But the more I thought about dealing with hot oil and the greasy aftermath and that heavy, fatty air that was sure to hang around the house for days afterward, the less appealing a traditional doughnut recipe seemed. Can one make baked doughnuts?, I wondered, and if I made some and told you about them, would you all think I was going all Susan Powter on you? Risky.

But thanks to half a pot of coffee and a couple hours to myself to putter about a gloriously quiet house, I had all sorts of moxie on that particular day, and a quick Google search landed me on one of my favorite blogs and a recipe for baked doughnuts that looked especially promising.

Despite my recurring fear of yeast doughs that we’ve gone over before, I found this recipe to be fabulously simple. It’s a lot like a pizza dough or white bread dough, but there’s a little extra butter and egg worked in to deliver a bit of richness and keep the finished product moist. So maybe like a Brioche Light for Dummies. Just my thing.

It’s a cinch to work with–a lovely, pillowy dough–and dare I say I actually had an awesomely fun, anxiety-free experience with this yeast dough? Yes, yes I did. And here is where you might suggest I get out a little more and I cover my ears and shake my head. Because–oh-ho!–the fun doesn’t stop there, people!

After you roll and cut all those cute little doughtnuts and bake them until they are just golden on the bottom, then you dip them quickly in melted butter and love them all up even more with a coating of cinnamon sugar. See? Don’t you go telling me I don’t know from fun. Awww, yeeaaahh.

All unbridled, fanciful ways aside, I was pleasantly surprised at the results of this recipe and didn’t at all feel like I was being gypped, from a doughnut-craving standpoint. Tender, flavorful, a wonderful hit of yeast and nutmeg to give you that actual doughnut satisfaction. I mean, Krispy Kremes they are not, but they are very, very good and hey, you can have two without that OHMAHGAHIJUSTATETWODOUGHNUTS feeling. It’s a new sensation for me, and I have to say, I rather enjoy it.

Baked Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnuts
Adapted from Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks

These are awesome rolled in a blend of granulated and light brown sugars, as I’ve done here, but I’m thinking they’d also be delicious glazed (skip the melted butter-dipping step) or dusted with confectioners’ sugar instead. Whatever you do, plan on eating these ASAP after baking for the best flavor and texture, and revive the leftovers with a quick zap in the microwave. The dough can be made a day ahead–just prepare it up through the cutting stage, wrap the baking sheet with plastic wrap, and let the doughnuts rise in a warm place an hour before baking. If in doubt about how long to bake these, err on the side of underbaking so the interior is tender and moist.

Makes about 1 dozen

For the dough:

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons warm milk, divided, 95 to 105 degrees (take its temperature–too hot and it will kill the yeast)
1 1/8 teaspoons active dry yeast (about half a packet)
1 tablespoons butter, melted and still warm
1/3 cup sugar
1 eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

For the cinnamon-sugar coating:

1/4 cup (half a stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

Place 3 tablespoons of the warm milk in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Stir in the yeast and set aside for at least five minutes. Place the remaining 1/2 cup of warm milk in a small bowl, stir in the butter and sugar, and add it to the yeast mixture. On low speed, stir in the egg, flour, nutmeg, and salt – just until the flour is incorporated. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough for a few minutes at medium speed. At this point, make a few adjustments – if your dough is seriously sticky, add flour a few tablespoons at a time. Too dry? Add a little bit of milk. Eventually, you want the dough to pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl and become soft and smooth. Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface, knead it a few times by hand, and shape it into a smooth ball.

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl (cooking spray works great here), cover with plastic wrap and put it in a warm place. Let the dough rise until its doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Punch down the dough and roll it out 1/2-inch thick on a floured work surface. Using a 2-3 inch cookie cutter, stamp out circles. Transfer the circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet and cut holes in the centers with a smaller cutter, about half the diameter of the first–remember the hole will close up on the second rising if it’s too small, so make it a little bigger than what a finished doughnuts would look like (alternatively, use a doughnut cutter, if you actually own one). Cover the baking sheet with a clean cloth and let the doughnuts rise for another 45 minutes.

Bake in a 375 degree oven until the bottoms are just golden, 8 to 10 minutes – start checking around 8. Better to underbake then overbake here–pull them early if in doubt. While the doughnuts are baking, melt the 1/4 cup of butter in a medium bowl. Place the sugars and cinnamon in a separate bowl (or large ziploc bag), stirring to blend evenly.

Remove the doughnuts from the oven and let cool for just a minute or two. Dip each one in the melted butter and a quick toss in the sugars. Serve immediately.

Feb 6, 2010

No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread

So what are you guys doing this weekend?

Because I’m running 13.1 miles on Sunday. On purpose. With several thousand other crazy people. Send drugs now.

In preparation, I am doing what is probably the best part about running a race–carbo-loading via copious amounts of perfectly crusty, homemade whole wheat bread with lots of butter. What, butter isn’t a carb, you say? And carbo-loading is so 80’s? Oh, you just hush. I’m running a flippin’ half marathon this weekend.

You may remember me mentioning something about this half marathon business a few months back, when I said that you may end up hearing more about the whole thing than you really wanted to know. I figured that with all the training being such a big part of my life, some of the details would eek into this space. But that hasn’t really happened. I’ve saved all the complaining about the whole thing for other lucky friends and family members. And I’ve done a lot of complaining. It’s been hard, harder than I thought.

Since the weekday “short runs” became as long as the weekend “long runs” were in the early weeks of training, it’s been tough. Not because my endurance wasn’t there–it’s amazing how quickly the body adapts to such crazy activities; I’ve had many a tearful “Rocky” moment throughout this whole experience–but because I’ve had to do all those weekday runs with a busy toddler who really doesn’t want to be in a stroller that long anymore. Pushing that behemoth of a running stroller full of whining, restless kid on a drizzly, windy San Francisco day when your running legs have seemingly abandoned you is the sort of thing that makes you unable to think of nothing but every other thing you’d rather be doing at that moment. Ugh.

On the plus side, I am fitter than ever and fit comfortably back in my pre-baby pants. I have also acquired new talents such as handing off sippy cups and snacks and fetching teddy bears that get violently chucked off the side of that aforementioned stroller without breaking stride or slowing my pace. Valuable life skills, people. Clearly, bread-baking is a much more practical skill. I think I will switch to bread baking after Sunday. So much for those pants.

Not that making this particular bread requires much skill at all. It’s one of Jim Lahey’s fabulous recipes, the guy who has incredible, actual bread-baking skills and has made his amazingly simple No-Knead method accessible to all of us who have none. I stirred together the dough in seconds one evening and had fresh, crackly, crusty whole wheat bread all set for the gorging less than 24 hours later. I barely had to do a dang thing to achieve such carb zenith. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to get such big results with no effort. It’s a beautiful thing.

No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey’s My Bread:The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method

Back when I made the original, all-white-flour version of this bread, I found it desperately needed more salt, so I added it here. Also, I followed the ratio of bread flour to whole-wheat flour that Lahey suggests–increasing the whole wheat flour will result in a denser loaf, but experiment and see if you like it. I also needed to add more water then the 1 1/3 cups listed (about 1/4 cup more) to get the dough to the right consistency–you want it to be quite wet and sticky before the first rise.

2 1/4 cups bread flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon instant or other active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups cool (55 to 65 degrees) water
Wheat bran, cornmeal, or additional flour for dusting

In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, salt, and yeast. Add the water. Using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, adding a bit more water if necessary. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, at least 12 to 18 hours.

When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula, lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.

Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. Dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour if it’s sticky. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise again for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled and when you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression–if it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

Half an hour before the end of the second rise, position a rack so that the pot will be centered in the oven, and preheat it to 475 degrees. Place a covered 4 1/2-to-5 1/2-quart cast-iron pot (such as a dutch oven) in the center of the rack.

Use pot holders to carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Quickly but gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side up. Be careful!–The pot is very hot. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the lid and continue baking the whole wheat bread until the loaf is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes more. Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to carefully lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly before slicing.

Dec 2, 2007

Glazed Cinnamon Rolls

I love how the holidays, though sometimes hectic, encourage us to slow down and do a few things that would normally seem like too much work, like making cinnamon rolls from scratch, because the payoff, like the smells of sweet spice and brewing coffee wafting through the house on Christmas morning, is enough to fill every little pocket of the soul.

The process for making cinnamon rolls, like with a lot of yeast-risen things, can be a wee bit complicated and generally time-consuming (keep in mind the aforementioned payoff, people!). I wanted to do a test run of a cinnamon roll recipe now just to feel it out, and time to practice will be limited in the coming days. Keeping in mind that cinnamon rolls are best eaten fresh, just moments after emerging from the oven, I knew an entire batch of warm cinnamon rolls oozing with glossy icing, taunting us from the kitchen counter, would be crazy bait in our house. So it’s a bonus that this recipe is perfect for making a day ahead or freezing portions for a longer term. After the rolls are sliced, just wrap them tightly and stick them in the fridge or freezer and in the morning or whenever the urge hits, take a few out to come to room temperature and do their final rise on the counter for two hours or so, then bake and glaze as usual. Brilliant!

If you have a standing mixer, this recipe is a breeze using the dough hook. If you don’t have a standing mixer, simply do the majority of the recipe by hand with a wooden spoon, and then when you’d normally switch to the dough hook with a mixer, just turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand until the dough is soft and smooth. Even though I adore my standing mixer and began to use it for this recipe, I know the kneading by hand works because, well, I managed to bust an ordinarily indestructible KitchenAid mixer during the making of this recipe. Oh, yeah.

Okay, so the tragedy involved the collision of a metal measuring cup and the rotating thing on the mixer that holds the attachments. While I was mindlessly attempting to dump in a cup of flour and look at the recipe at the same time. Both competitors fought a violent fight, with lots of grinding and snapping and squealing, and in the end, believe it or not, the measuring cup won. Big time. And so, now we know, that in the event of a nuclear war, we will be left with cockroaches, Cher and a set of Williams-Sonoma measuring cups. Thankfully, I was within my warranty, and the good people at KitchenAid seemed to be so appalled that a measuring cup could take down their flagship product, they have offered to send me a brand new mixer. Which is on backorder. For 2-3 weeks. During peak holiday baking time! Pout.

Anyway, these cinnamon rolls are a dream to work with and even more dreamy to eat. They call to mind everything we love about a certain shopping-mall indulgence, in terms of spice and tenderness and a generous swipe of icing, but none of the greasiness and cloying sweetness. You can enjoy one on Christmas morning (or anytime, really) with a nice cup of coffee without feeling like you might go into insulin shock or have to take a breather during eating in order to eat the whole thing. The addition of butter and egg yolks in the dough give the rolls a lovely richness that makes butter in the filling unnecessary, so the cinnamon flavor comes out loud and clear.

I liked the drippy, not-too-sweet cream cheese glaze that accompanies this recipe, but kind of actually missed the thick, almost buttercream-like frosting that comes with commercially made cinnamon rolls and will might make a few changes for the icing the next time I summon a few of the rolls from my freezer. This is the first time I’ve even remotely disagreed with a recipe from Baking Illustrated. I hope Christopher Kimball comes to find me and grounds me. I really, really hope so.

Glazed Cinnamon Rolls
Adapted from Baking Illustrated
Makes 12

When cutting the rolls, try quick snips with kitchen scissors, or even better, fishing line or unflavored dental floss, to make clean cuts and avoid smashing their pretty cinnamon swirls.

For the dough:
1/2 cup milk
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 envelope instant yeast
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4-4 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

For the filling:
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt

For the icing:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened but still cool
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

For the dough, begin by heating the milk and butter in a glass measuring cup in the microwave until the butter is just melted and the mixture reaches 100 degrees on an instant read thermometer, about 45-60 seconds.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl with a wooden spoon, mix together the warm water, yeast, sugar, whole egg and egg yolks. Add the salt, warm milk mixture and 2 cups of the flour and mix until well-blended. Add the remaining 2 cups of flour, and if using a stand mixer, switch to the dough hook and knead at medium speed until the dough is smooth and freely clears the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes. Then turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball (if making the dough by hand, stir in the remaining two cups of flour and when the mixture is well-blended, scrape the wet dough out onto a floured surface and knead it until it is soft and smooth, then shape into a ball). Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and let it rise until it has doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.

For the icing, combine all the ingredients and beat with a whip attachment in a standing mixer or with an electric hand mixer until smooth and free of lumps. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the rolls are ready to be glazed.

When the dough has risen, punch it down and then turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll the dough out into a 12×16″ rectangle, with a long side facing you. Combine the filling ingredients and sprinkle evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch border at the long end away from you. Begin rolling the dough into a log with your fingertips beginning at the long edge closest to you, pinching the dough as you roll it tightly. When you reach the end, moisten the edge of the dough with wet fingertips and finish the roll, sealing the edge. Cut the roll in into twelve rolls and place them in a greased 9×13-inch baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and let the rolls rise until double in bulk once again, about 2 more hours.

Bake the cinnamon rolls at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until they are golden brown and the centers register at 185 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Let the rolls cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then ice generously with the cream cheese icing.

Sep 10, 2007

No Knead to Freak Out–Part Two

As promised, I have pulled out the gloves (oven mitts, in this case) for a second round of No Knead Bread. When we last talked about my adventures with this bread, I left you with the thoughts that I had fallen in love with the overall appearance, crust, interior and crumb of this bread, but that the flavor left much to be desired. So I played a bit with the original recipe (which I have moved to a permanent position in this post) and was really pleased with the results. A single bare bite of this second attempt, with not even the slightest drizzle of olive oil pooling in its crevices, confirmed that this bread is definitely worth the hype. The added salt (an extra 1/2 teaspoon) this time around clearly gave the bread a new life and dimension and made for an even tastier crust.

More importantly, while the first loaf tasted of not much at all, this loaf was full of flavor, almost a Sourdough Lite, if you will–certainly the result of an extra eight hours tacked onto the first rise (for a total of 24 hours as opposed to 16 in the first attempt). I knew there would be some improvement this time around when I lifted the plastic wrap from the bowl after the first long rise and the vigorous bouquet of yeasty alcohol smacked me on the nose. Hooray!

After catching onto the smell wafting through the apartment during the baking of this loaf, my No Knead confidence was restored, and I quickly devised a dinner menu that would rely on what would surely be great bread to make it complete, lest you think I never eat anything other than baked goods. And so it had to be: a mountain of fresh, tender black Pacific mussels, steamed in a luscious broth of sauvignon blanc, butter, shallots and garlic, with a spritely green salad on the side. There really was just no other way around it.

So for me and my palate (and the husband’s too, though he seemed to like the first loaf just fine as well…he is steadfast and true that way) this is the recipe for No Knead Bread that I will be using again and again.

No Knead Bread
Adapted from Jim Leahy of Sullivan Street Bakery, NYC and Chocolate and Zucchini

470 grams of all-purpose or bread flour (I used King Arthur Bread Flour)
2 1/2 teaspoons of salt (I used my favorite fleur de sel)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
350 grams water at room temperature
Extra flour or cornmeal for dusting

Whisk the flour, salt and yeast together in a large bowl. Stir in the water with a wooden spoon or your hands, until fully incorporated. The dough will feel stickier and wetter than other bread doughs and will come together in a shaggy-looking ball. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest for 24 hours at room temperature (ideally about 70 degrees).

After this first rise, the dough will be doubled in volume and covered in little bubbles. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface (it will still seem wetter and looser than other bread doughs). For this step, I like to take my favorite huge cutting board, cover it in parchment, securing it with tape, and then flour the parchment like mad. Gently pull at the sides of the dough for a rectangle shape, and then fold it into the thirds, with the two sides pulled towards the center. Give the dough a quarter turn and then fold into thirds again. Turn the dough over and shape into a ball. Cover the ball with plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes. In the meantime, clean the bowl and lightly grease it. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic and let it rise a second time, for 2 hours.

30 minutes before the second rise is complete, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, with the dutch oven inside of it. When the second rise is complete, CAREFULLY remove the screaming hot pot from the oven and remove the lid. Sprinkle the inside of the pot generously with flour or cornmeal. Place the dough inside the hot pot, sprinkle with more flour or cornmeal, and replace the cover.

Bake at 450 degrees for 30 minutes with the lid, then remove the lid and bake for 15 minutes more, until the crust is so beautiful you almost begin to weep. Carefully remove the hot pot and turn the bread out onto a cooling rack. Let the bread cool for AT LEAST 45 minutes before slicing. The water needs to redistribute itself throughout the bread, so if you don’t wait to cut it, the crumb will be rubbery, and after all that work, you don’t want to risk that, do you?

Read “No Knead to Freak Out–Part One”

Sep 4, 2007

No Knead to Freak Out–Part One

I have a confession that may put my baking prowess in question: Bread Scares Me. Not in the carb-phobic L.A. kind of way (Sister, please! I blog about baking!), but in a “I-am-just-so-very-frightened-that-I’ll-never-
get-it-to-turn-out-right” kind of way. All the kneading, the rising, the importance of gluten–it’s all just been too much. Up until this point, I was so happy to leave the art of bread making to the pros and purchase crusty artisanal loaves from my favorite boulangeries. And then my latest kitchen purchase came along:
After barely justifying the hefty (literally and financially) purchase to myself and the husband, I had no other choice but to work my new Le Creuset 5 1/2 quart dutch oven. And going off of the sales pitch from my friendly Williams-Sonoma clerk (“You can roast in it, braise in it! Soups! Stews! It slices, it dices!”) I decided to research what kinds of recipes I could bake in my new buddy. A simple Google search later, and I was met with roughly one bazillion websites and blogs discussing a phenomenon known as No Knead Bread, which, as legend would have it, gets the best results when baked in a Le Creuset dutch oven. Hooray!

“Wait, what do you mean Southern California has been in the grip of a treacherous heat wave? I’m baking BREAD, everyone!” I cried.

Nothing was going to hold me back. Not even the fact that I am nearly a year late on the No Knead trend. I’ve been called many lovely things in my lifetime–avantgarde is not one of them.

The pioneer in this case is Jim Leahy, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. He developed this recipe and has lost a bit of the credit for it, because it was a New York Times article by Mark Bittman that really threw the recipe into the mainstream. Bittman, I salute you, you are a fine writer. But Jim Leahy, you sir deserve the Noble Prize for Carb Support for coming up with this one, and helping even yeast-skeered little old me make a loaf of gorgeous crusty bread that I believe made my husband forget the $200 Williams-Sonoma charge on the credit card. Well done, Mr. Leahy.

Since this recipe has been all the rage with foodies for quite some time, I was able to do a lot of research before beginning my No Knead adventure. Given the insanely warm weather, how temperamental this recipe can be and and what I already know about measuring ingredients in baking, I decided to seek out a recipe that gave measurements in weight (grams) not volume (cups). A cup of flour can contain up to 20 grams more or less than you think it does, depending on humidity, how you measure it, and how it was stored. Measuring by weight seemed to be the most foolproof method.

I was also careful to seek out photos of what the dough should look like when properly risen after the first rise (doubled in volume and covered in bubbles, indicating prime yeast action) and how long that should take (a broad window of 12-24 hours, depending on who you listen to). As I mentioned before, we were having quite the heat wave here in Southern California, even at the beach, so “room temperature” in my non-air-conditioned apartment was about 80 degrees, more than the recommended room temperature of 70 degrees. For this attempt, I decided to let the first rise go 16 hours, since the recipe I followed suggested 12-18 hours and it would be rising in a slightly warmer space. I also decided to forgo what would surely be a messy second rise in a kitchen towel in exchange for a lightly greased bowl, with no ill effect on the final result.

As for the ingredients, I used King Arthur Bread Flour, to which my current baking Bible, Baking Illustrated, gave rave reviews. I used Brita-filtered water, my favorite fleur de sel, and Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise Yeast in the foil packets. and then later saw some No Kneaders warning against using this kind of yeast, and that it’s better to use the kind for bread machines that comes in a jar. Well, my first loaf of this bread made with foil-packet instant yeast rose well and had a phenomenal crust, so next time I will try the kind in the jar which I’m assuming will take this bread to some new level none of us can comprehend. Probably.

This loaf of bread was, in short, almost really good. The texture is what was most impressive here: a crackly, thick, substantial crust, an interior littered with delightful holes, and a crumb that is chubby and chewy and simply divine.

So we have a great foundation here. But as for its flavor, ehhhh…well, given its beautiful appearance and the way shards of crisp crust spat about the kitchen upon slicing, I was longing for a more sourdough flavor, and just didn’t get it this time. The husband was impressed though. At any rate, it was perfectly lovely with our dinner that night when it accompanied foods with big, bold flavors: a buttery brie, a sharp aged cheddar and a dippably juicy and garlicky tomato, white bean and basil salad over mixed greens.

I am going to play with this recipe a bit more and report back. I am very confident that a few adjustments will really make this bread live up to its grand reputation. Stay tuned…

No Knead to Freak Out–Part Two


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