no-knead bread loaf

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I wanted to make a bread with a chewy crust and a tender crumb to accompany roasted sausages, grapes and onions. So I made two boules, round loaves of bread. This recipe is adapted from the recipe A Loaf of Bread in How to Cook Without a Book. For some reason, my bread doughs are always very wet, and this one continued that tradition. I used SAF-Instant gold yeast which is said to be “osmotolerant” a phrase which means it is specially formulated to handle high sugar doughs. Because of my experiences of the past 8 months with the multigrain bread recipe, it seemed so simple in comparison–just 5 ingredients. And in a sense, the result was quite simple. I got what I wanted. I got a crusty chewy bread with a tender open crumb.

No-Knead Bread Loaf
Time: 3 hours 15 minutes (more or less)

1 2/3 cups water, room temperature
1 3/4 teaspoons instant dry yeast
4 cups (480 g) bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
Cornmeal for the pan

In the workbowl of a large food processor, add the flour and the yeast. Pulse to combine. Add the salt and pulse to combine. While the machine is running on high speed, gradually pour the water down the feed tube, watching for the dough to clump and form a ball. Mine didn’t and I used up all the water. In your kitchen, you might not need all the water. I ended up with a very soft, very wet, very sticky dough. Rather than knead the dough, I decided to use the stretch-and-fold method.

Using a plastic dough scraper, I scraped that sticky dough out into a bowl, covered it, and let it rest 10 minutes. Then I smeared some oil on the work surface and rubbed my hands in oil. I dabbed a little on the top of the dough and turned it out on the oiled surface. Using a metal dough scraper, I lifted the edge of the dough furthest away from me, stretched it and folded it in half towards me. Using the heel of my hand, I pressed the edges together, gave the dough a slight turn, and repeated the process 8 or 10 times. Then I put the dough back in the bowl, covered it and let it rest 10 minutes. I repeated the process two more times. Incredibly, it worked. Without kneading, the dough became smooth, pliant, and elastic.

Grease a large bowl and put the dough in it for the first of two rises, called fermentation. I covered the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and put it in the microwave (off) with a cup of boiling water for company. Because I wanted to get a ciabatta bread, I took the bowl out of the microwave after 30 minutes. (If you don’t, skip this step.) I oiled the work surface and scraped the dough out of the bowl. I oiled my hands and patted the dough into a rectangle twice as big as the ball originally. Then I folded the dough in thirds. First the left side, then the right, then the top and lastly the bottom. I folded the edges of the dough towards the center, rotating it and folding it to get a taut ball. I turned it over, seam side down, and shaped the ball between cupped hands. Then I put it back in the bowl, seam side down, covered it, and let it rise for another 1 1/2 hours in the proofing box (aka my microwave oven, off, of course) with a cup of boiling water to create a humid environment.

While the dough is rising, prepare two bannetons or two 7-inch bowls lined with thin dish towels. Generously flour the bottom and sides of the towel inside the bowls/bannetons and tap out the excess flour.

With fermentation completed, I turned the dough out onto a floured surface and cut the ball into two equal halves. You can weigh it for even distribution. Shape each piece into a taut ball by folding the edges towards the center. Flip it over seam side down, and rotate it on the work surface to seal the bottom. Put the balls in the bannetons/bowls, seam side up. Flour the seam-side and cover the dough with a damp towel. Put them back to proof 45 minutes.

While the dough is proofing, heat the oven to 220˚C/450˚F. Line a large rimmed baking tray with a sheet of parchment. Sprinkle cornmeal on top of the parchment and set aside.

When the dough has proofed, tip the boules out on top of the cornmeal. Using a sharp knife, slash the tops of the dough with a cross. Put the tray in the oven and increase the oven temperature to 260˚C/500˚F. After 15 minutes, turn the tray around. Bake an additional 10 minutes. The original recipe said 20 minutes but the bread was brown and crusty in half the time. Don’t rely on the time but do observe how brown the top is getting. To test the bread is done, it should read 200˚F on an instant read thermometer. Remove the bread to a wire cooling rack to cool thoroughly before slicing.

multigrain bread

I have been baking bread since February. The same recipe. And I’m not even tired of it! Why am I not tired of this recipe? Well, quite honestly, it’s the challenge. Bread is just flour, water, yeast and salt, but these four simple ingredients can be so temperamental that making a good loaf of bread is almost elusive. To be good, the bread must be moist, tall and tender, and be springy to the touch. So here we are, the first day of October and I think I have finally nailed it.

This recipe is from America’s Test Kitchen which has never disappointed me if I follow their recipe strictly–until now. The dough was so appallingly sticky and the gluten stubbornly uncooperative. For the last eight months I obsessively maintained a Dough Diary, writing down every deviation, experimentation, failure, and success. I decided it must be the flour, so I switched from all-purpose in the recipe to bread flour, and got better results. I did my research and learned how to knead bread by hand, a very enjoyable activity. Still, I didn’t get a tall tender loaf until I learned that I need to weigh the dough to fit the pan I’m using. In baking bread, weighing is everything. Now that I’ve worked that out, here is the (almost) perfect multigrain sandwich loaf and boule. Ta-DAH!

Multigrain Bread (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)
Minutes to Prepare: 30 minutes
Resting Time: varies, from 5 hours to 6
Minutes to bake: 35 minutes
Yield: 1425 grams of dough or 1 sandwich loaf and 1 boule**
**I converted all measurements to grams because it’s more accurate.

Special Equipment
1 8.5×4.5 loaf pan
Stand Mixer
Scale
Dough or Bench Scrapers
Instant Read Thermometer

Ingredients
135 grams multigrain hot cereal mix (in Thailand use McGarrett’s 5 grain cereal)
2 1/2 cups boiling water
360 grams bread flour, plus more for dusting (all-purpose originally)
170 grams whole wheat flour (also called hard wheat)
91 grams honey
59 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon fine table salt

Optional Additions to the Dough
3/4 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, OR
1/2 cup flaxseed or chia seeds, OR
3/4 cup chopped nuts, after sifting out the powder

Topping
Egg yolk wash (1 egg yolk + 1 tablespoon water)
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats, quick oats, or multigrain cereal

Place cereal mix in the work bowl of the stand mixer and pour boiling water over it. Let it stand, stirring occasionally to cool the mixture to 100-115˚F. The grain will swell and absorb some but not all the water. This takes from 20-30 minutes. Measure the flours into a large bowl and whisk together. Set aside.

Once the grain mixture has cooled, add the honey, melted butter, and yeast. Attach bowl to the stand mixer fitted with the paddle. Mix on low speed (Level 1-2) to combine. Still beating on low speed, add the flour mixture a half-cup at a time, mixing the flour into the cereal. Once all the flour has been added, switch the paddle for the dough hook, and knead on Level 2-3 until the dough forms a ball, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

Without removing the bowl, cover the top of the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Let dough rest 20 minutes. Add salt. Knead the dough in the machine 3-4 minutes on Level 2 or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl but sticks to the bottom. If it doesn’t clear, add 2-3 tablespoons additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue mixing until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Continue kneading on Level 2-3 for 5 more minutes.

Touch the dough. It will be sticky–some of it will come away on your finger. It is tacky if your finger is clean. If it is tacky, most likely the kneading is done. Cut away a walnut-size piece of dough and stretch it as thin as it will go without tearing. It will be flexible and translucent when held up to the light. This is called the windowpane test. Add the nuts/seeds, if using, and knead for 15 more seconds. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes to disperse the seeds. The dough is ready for the stage called bulk fermentation.

If the dough is sticky, and it always was for me, this means the gluten is undeveloped. I recommend kneading it by hand, a process that can take up to 30 minutes, but is oddly satisfying. The slap and fold method works well for this sticky dough. Oil your hands (keep a bowl of oil nearby) and try not to add more flour, though the dough can take up to 6 tablespoons more. Shape the dough into a rough rectangle. Lift it up and slap the dough firmly on the work surface, stretch it back towards you, then fold it over on itself. Repeat and repeat. It may seem like forever, but the dough will eventually come together. You can see demonstrations of this technique on YouTube. Stop and do the windowpane test after 10 minutes. If it’s not stretchy, keep slapping and folding.

Once the dough passes the window pane test, it will become tacky and not stick to your hands or the work surface as much. Lightly flour the work surface and shape the dough into a ball. Oil a 4-5 quart mixing bowl and put the dough ball in it, turning to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Put it in a warm draft free place to rise. This is called bulk fermentation, and is one of two rises that the dough will need. I put the bowl in the microwave (off, of course) with a cup of boiling water. Or you can heat the oven on low, turn it off, and put the bowl in the oven. The dough will need 45-60 minutes to double in bulk. It will rise to the top of the mixing bowl but not over it. If it only rises 2/3 of the bowl after 45 minutes or one hour,  let the dough have 15 minutes more.

When the dough has risen weigh it. I get about 1425 grams of dough after fermentation. I cut it half, roughly, one piece weighing 770 grams will make a sandwich loaf in the pan. The smaller piece I roll into a boule. I don’t have a banneton and you don’t need one to make a boule. Use a medium size bowl. I use a bamboo rice steamer basket.

Making a sandwich loaf. Pat 770 grams of the dough into a rectangle. Roll it into a tight cylinder so there are no holes. Pinch the seams closed and roll it back and forth on the work surface to smooth it out.  Spray the loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside. Brush egg wash on the sandwich loaf and roll it in a 1/2 cup of oats or cereal spread in a plate. Place it in the center of the prepared loaf pan.

Making a boule. Fold the edges of the dough toward the center. Keep doing this until you get a taut ball. Dust a little flour on the work surface and put the ball seam side down in the flour. Cup your hand around it and smooth out the ball. Line your banneton with a clean dish towel and sprinkle some flour inside it. Don’t use the egg wash on the boule just yet. Put the boule in the bowl with the seam side up. Sprinkle some flour on the dough then cover the boule with the ends of the dish cloth.

Proofing the dough. Put the dough in the microwave (off) to proof, 30-40 minutes. Cover the dough with plastic and a kitchen towel. The loaf will rise 1 1/2 to 2 inches above the rim of the pan. The boule will increase 50%. While they are proofing, heat the oven to 375˚F/190˚C. Put a baking tray on the oven rack in the center of the oven.

Bake the bread. Unwrap the boule and tip it out of the bowl onto a piece of parchment paper. Take the hot baking tray out of the oven and place the boule with parchment on  one side. Brush top of boule with egg wash and pat oats/cereal on it. Put the loaf pan next to it on the baking tray. Put the baking tray in the oven and watch the magic. We have bread! After 35 minutes, take the baking tray out of the oven. The loaf and the boule will have reached an internal temperature of 200˚F which means the bread is cooked inside. Transfer the boule with parchment to a wire cooling rack. Put the loaf pan on another cooling rack. After 10 minutes, take it out of the pan. Cool completely for at least 3 hours before slicing.

PS I got a new brand of yeast that’s recommended by bread bakers. I’m so excited. I can’t believe I’m excited about yeast.