Thursday, 3 May 2007

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Somehow in all the months I’ve been blogging, I have managed to avoid writing anything about food! Amazing, since my two favourite pastimes, after playing with my paints or digging in the garden, have to be cooking and eating. This little piece of paradise has most needs sorted out for its residents; the fish truck comes around once a week with fresh seafood and lovely vegetables and fruit, the library bus is here once a month, wood and other fuels are delivered and, for a price, a national supermarket chain even brings groceries. All that’s lacking is a really decent, fresh loaf of bread!

No problem! I’m an old bread baking veteran well versed in the lore of yeasts and starters so armed with ‘Old Faithful’ (my tried and tested recipe that erupts with risen goodness), several packets of organic whole wheat flour, freshly bought yeast and our lovely spring water, I prepared for battle! Six loaves later, I was ready to surrender. Each and every batch had produced a wonderful first rise, functioned perfectly with the second rise and come out of the oven like a well formed brick! Inedible, only we ate them…there wasn’t anything else. Sandwiches were out of the question; too far from the dentist to risk a broken tooth, cheese or pate on bread was unwise and toast…well you can only imagine!

Lacking books, I did what any IT savvy, self-respecting rookie would do; I turned to the Blogosphere. Following on the great success I’ve had with inspiration, focus, and motivation I decided to take my bread problem to the experts out in Blogland. Of course this meant plenty of lurking on food blogs…oh boy what riches are there for the picking! Hunger; however, kept me focussed and it wasn’t long before I found answers here at Farm Girl Fare, thanks Susan!

Results of all of this were encouraging; the loaf was satisfyingly dense but not at all stodgy with a lovely wheaty taste. I’m going to experiment with using a loaf pan and if it works, this recipe will be hard to beat as an everyday loaf, not just tasty but time saving and so very easy to make.
Although this bread has been doing the rounds since November of last year, the recipe seems to be confined to the US and Canada. Originally the brainchild of New York baker, Jim Lahey, the recipe appeared in The New York Times last year and originally used white flour but works with almost any type of bread flour. I have used both stone ground whole-wheat flour and malted grain whole-wheat flour with equal success. The free form shape doesn’t work too well for sandwiches but according to Susan, she has successfully used loaf pans with this recipe. This will be my next experiment; the only change I made was to cut the salt to a scant teaspoon. Oh, and the bread in the photo was baked in an ordinary stainless steel roaster as my heavy pot was in service, full of Tuscan Bean Soup.


No – Knead Bread

Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, with more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Wheat bran or extra flour as needed

In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 and 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest (rise) at least 12 hours, preferably 18, at warm room temperature (about 21 degrees C, 70 degrees F).

Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour work surface and place dough on it (it is very sloppy); sprinkle it with a bit more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice (I found it too sloppy and used about ½ a cup, folding 4 or 5 times to incorporate). Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton tea towel (not towelling) with flour or bran; put dough seam side down on this towel and dust with flour or bran. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 more hours. When ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not spring back readily when poked with a finger.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 400 - 450 degrees (depending on your oven). Put a heavy, covered, 6 to 8 quart pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in the oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under the towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look a mess, but that’s OK. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake about another 15 - 30 minutes until the loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack. Makes one 1½ pound loaf.


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