I should have posted this when I first wrote about the Bittman Slow-Rise Bread a month or so ago. I forgot. Below, you’ll find a link to a Word file containing a grid of rising times. I quickly got sick of trying to calculate 18 hours and then another 2 for the NYT’s Slow-Rise Bread. If you make the bread often, the table is handy to have on hand. Mine is taped to my fridge.
In the continuing sweepstake’s for the simplest bread recipe, Cook’s Illustrated weighed in this month with its own version. Sherry gave me a copy of the article last week. The testor’s goal was to improve on the NYT’s Slow-Rise Bread. As an indicator of just how easy the recipe is, I set up the dough yesterday, even though I am suffering from the worst cold I’ve ever had — and yesterday was the nadir. It’s an interesting recipe, whose variations I look forward to exploring. In fact, I liked it so much that I went on-line and started a subscription to Cook’s.
Here’s how Cook’s set it out:
3 cups (15 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting work surface
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp table salt
3/4 cup plus 2 T water (7 ounces), at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 T (3 ounces) mild-flavored lager
1 T white vinegar
1. Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Using rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours.
2. Lay 12- by 18-inch sheet of parchment paper inside 10-inch skillet and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead 10 to 15 times. Shape dough into ball by pulling edge into middle. Transfer dough, seam-side down, to parchment-lined skillet and spray surface of dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with finger about 2 hours.
3. About 30 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place 6- to 8-quart heavy-bottomed Dutch oven (with lid) on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or sharp knife, make one 6-inch long, 1/2-inch deep slit along top of dough. Carefully remove pot from oven and remove lid. Pick up dough by lifting parchment overhang and lower into pot (let any excess parchment hang over pot edge). Cover pot and place in oven. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30 mins. Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 210 degrees, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove bread from pot; transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.
Here’s what I did:
I decided to use all-purpose bread flour — because I had it on hand, basically. Measuring 3 ounces of lager is a bit of a pain as you wait for the suds to subside. Might be a good idea to pour it ahead of time and let the bubbles deflate. The ingredients bound together nicely into a soft, shaggy, barely pliable ball. I let the dough rise for 18 hours.
The idea of placing parchment in a skillet strikes me as a micro-management touch. Parchment is a good idea, but the Bittman recipe’s direction to place the formed ball on to a flour- or corn-meal dusted tea towel is just as if not more sensible. I poured the fermented dough on to the work surface and kneaded it a little before I formed it into a ball.
I did as this recipe called for and slashed the top of the ball, lifted up the parchment and placed it in the Dutch oven to cook. I did NOT insert a thermometer to read the temperature — another instance of micro-management. Why would I want to break the surface of the bread and let air escape? After taking the lid off, I let it bake another 25 mins. I think the time will depend on individual ovens and how hot they run.
The result was excellent. Lots of air holes in the crumb. The crust was not quite as hard as the other two recipes, but still very chewy and good. I’m not going to use a skillet. Just plain unnecessary and overly fussy. And I don’t see why I should cut a gash in the top when I can flip the ball over into the pot and still get the ragged top. The baking temperature and times worked perfectly. I wondered if the parchment has an added advantage of protecting the bread from burning on the bottom, which means that it can be baked in the pot for a long time than the other recipes call for. I like this recipe a lot. The article also contains variations for whole-wheat, rye, and a loaf with olives and rosemary.
Update, 5/9/08: I haven’t made bread in a while, but before I took a break from it, I had made several loaves of one of the variations in the article. Now it’s the only way I make it. I adore the white version. But the whole wheat, lager and honey contribute to a fantastic loaf! I follow the recipe right through the 18 hours and then I revert to the NYT’s method of cooking (flipping the ball of dough that’s risen an additional 2 hours into a really hot Dutch oven and baking it as I described here.
Here’s the simple variation:
Follow recipe for Almost No-Knead Bread, replacing 1 cup (5 oz) all-purpose flour with 1 cup (5 oz) whole wheat flour. Stir 2 T honey into water before adding it to dry ingredients in step 1.
And for good measure, I’ll add the rye version, but notice the different measurements, one of which is undoubtedly a typo. 7 ounces is 1 3/8 cups.
Follow recipe for Almost No-Knead Bread, replacing 1 3/8 cups (7 oz) all-purpose flour with 1 1/8 (sic) cups (7 oz) rye flour. Add 2 T caraway seeds to flour mixture in step 1.
As soon as I read this recipe, I knew what not to do. I’ve tried numerous times to inject humidity into the oven by placing pans of water and spritzing loaves once or twice during baking. And not once has the crust of a loaf baked in that manner matched the hard shell I get when I bake the dough in my Le Creuset Dutch oven as the original NYT slow-rise bread recipe calls for. When I gave this recipe a try, I didn’t even bother to try the water-pan method. I’m glad I didn’t.
Here’s the recipe as it appeared in the Wednesday food section:
1 1/2 T yeast
1 1/2 T kosher salt
6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough
1. In a large bowl or plastic container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose. Cover, but not with an airtight lid. Let dough rise at room temperature 2 hours (or up to 5 hours).
2. Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two weeks. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough and cut off a grapefruit-size piece with serrated knife. Turn dough in hands to lightly stretch surface, creating a rounded top and a lumpy bottom. Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal; let rest 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it.
3. Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and turn oven to 450 degrees; heat stone at that temperature for 20 minutes.
4. Dust dough with flour, slash top with serrated or very sharp knife three times. Slide onto stone. Pour one cup hot water into broiler pan and shut oven quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely.
Yield: 4 loaves.
Variation: If not using stone, stretch rounded dough into oval and place in a greased, nonstick loaf pan. Let rest 40 minutes if fresh, an extra hour if refrigerated. Heat oven to 450 degrees for 5 minutes. Place pan on middle rack.
My first try:
As I said, I revised the recipe right off the bat. Instead of all-purpose flour, I used King Arthur’s Bread Flour. The yeast, Rapid-Rise, also derives from the Slow-Rise recipe. I let the sticky dough sit in my big plastic tub, loosely covered, for 3 hours. Then I put it in the fridge. The next day, with flour-dusted hands, I tore off one big wad of dough, shaped it into a ball by tucking pinched edges under it, and placed it on a flour-dusted tea towel. I folded the towel lightly over the ball and let it sit for 40 mins. About half an hour before baking, I put the covered Dutch oven (see Slow-Rise post) in the stove before setting the temperature to 475. When it came time to bake, working quickly, I removed the pot, took off the lid, and flipped the ball of dough smack center in the middle of the pot. I quickly covered the pot again and stuck it the oven. Then I reduced the heat to 450. The bread baked for 20 minutes, at which point I removed the cover and baked it for 20 minutes more. When it was done, I put it on a rack to cool.
While the first boule baked, I got another one going. And then I didn’t make any more bread for a week. A week later, the dough had soured beautifully. The photos of the small boule above are the last bread I made from my first batch. Great crust. Wonderful crumb. Good bite to the flavor.
When I make this again, I’m going to add malted barley powder, as I do to the Slow-Rise bread. This bread, however, couldn’t be more convenient. It sits in the fridge, ready-made practically, until you’re ready to bake. I also want to experiment with adding whole-wheat flour to the dough.