No-Need-to-Knead Bread

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” – James Beard.

So I finally baked the no-knead bread!

It turned out well…the second time. The first time that I made the dough I added too much water. The dough was really wet and glue-like rather than slightly sticky to touch and shaggy looking. It is really humid where I live, especially this time of year. So my flour may contain quite a bit of moisture already. Trying it a second time, I found that I did not need the full 1 and 5/8th cups of water. I think I likely used somewhere between 1 and ½ cups to 1 and 2/3 cups. Once I figured this out, manipulating the dough was super easy.

Another challenge I had was finding the right time to make the dough so that it would have long enough to rise and be ready at a time that was convenient for me to bake ( not the middle of the night or while I am at work). I wanted to follow the recipe as closely as possible – at least the first time – to test my success. I followed the directions for a 12 – 18 hour rise and a 2 hour proof strictly. I decided before hand that a weekend would be best for this. I made the dough shortly after getting home from work on Friday night. This is how everything went down:

Time Bread Schedule My Schedule
6 pm – 6:05 pm Friday Dough creation. Ditto
6 pm Friday to 9 am Saturday (16 hours) Bed time: Rested in a bowl on top of the microwave covered with cling film. Had dinner, painted my nails, watched a movie, and then slept.Other things that can (hypothetically) be done while the dough rises: drive-in movie viewing, essay writing, pub crawling, ball room dancing, hiking through the woods, speed dating, sky diving, debate club…ing, browsing Pinterest for hours, etc.
9 – 9:15 am Massage: Folding. Folded dough over 3 times, and then left it to rest on the counter for 15 minutes.
9:15 – 11:15 am Knap time: Resting and leavening on counter. Shaped dough into a ball, sprinkled it with wheat bran and wrapped it in a tea-towel.Then I went for a nice jog, showered, made tea.
11:30 am – 12:30 pm Sauna: baked in a steamy pot in the oven.At the 30 minute mark I took the lid off of the pot to find that the bread was already golden brown. I left the lid off and turned the oven off to let the residual heat finish the baking. Drank tea, ate breakfast, browsed Pinterest, showered and dressed.
12:30 pm Met untimely demise. Ate lots of bread!

Bottom right: the heavy, green enamel pot I found for $35 at a discount kitchen supply store. It worked very well!

Recipe (from the New York Times)

By Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan, New York.

–          3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting

–          ¼ teaspoon instant yeast

–          1¼ teaspoons salt

–          Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 and 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended. The dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover with cling film. Let dough rest for 12 to 18 hours at room temperature (22 degrees C).

2. After resting 12 to 18 hours, the dough surface will be dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. 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 with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees F. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. 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 another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

Thoughts:

Now that I know that the dough comes together very quickly and that the bread bakes in less than an hour, I might try making the dough before I leave for work (around 7 am) and then proofing after 12 hours. If all goes to plan the bread can go into the oven at 9 pm and be out by 10 pm. I may even see what happens if I make the dough one evening and bake it another. I don’t know if 24 hours (as opposed to 18) is really going to make or break (punny!) this bread.

I would also like to try the bread with whole wheat flour next time and then possibly with rye or whole grains. I have read that the grain in the whole wheat can shred the gluten molecules, making the bread tougher. But there are plenty of recipes and blog posts with advice on how to mitigate this. I anticipate that whole grains would be even trickier. I think the whole wheat will be a great, manageable next step.

Steamy Kitchen has a great photo step-by-step that I found helpful and provides proof that four-year old can make this bread!

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Introduction to bread making

This past weekend I made Amish Friendship Bread. It tasted fine. It has a nice texture and an earthy sweetness that reminds me a little of my Baba’s bread.

This was my first time baking with yeast. To be honest, doing so used to intimidate me greatly. This may seem silly to some, especially because many people all over the world bake their own bread. I am hoping that maybe others share my trepidation, only so that what I write about below might inspire them as well!

Now that I know what the active yeast will look like and smell like – much like beer, actually – I am really excited to try baking a loaf of savoury bread.

I wanted a very, very simple bread recipe and I knew I could count on one man in particular. If you are not already familiar with Mark Bittman allow me to introduce you to my most current food-hero crush. Mark Bittman is a food writer and journalist with a wicked TED talk about the dangers and inadequacies of our Western diet. Mark Bittman explains, “I try to write simple, straightforward recipes that encourage people to cook rather than wow or intimidate them.” I decided to put his assurances to the test.

I was incredibly pleased to find exactly what I was looking for. I challenge anyone to find a simpler bread recipe than this one. To be fair, this is not Mark Bittman’s recipe. He is promoting Jim Lahey’s (of Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan) very simple no-knead bread. Mr. Lahey has a super hip philosophy. Not only should his bread be simple enough that a 4-year-old could bake it, the recipe should be shared with as many people as possible.

I am not at all intimidated to try this recipe. In fact, I am really excited. The first step will be finding the appropriate vessel (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic pot with a lid). I am hoping to give it a whirl this weekend. Stay tuned!

 

If you would like to read Mark Bittman’s New York Times article on Jim Lahey’s bread you can do so here. The same link contains a video of Mr. Lahey demonstrating the process. You can also find the video here.

For more on bread – I am on a serious bread philosophy kick – here is a great TED talk by Peter Reinhart (breadmaker, teacher, author and theologian).

 

Simple Amish Friendship Bread (Sans Pudding Mix)

On Friday I was given a container of  Amish Friendship Bread starter.

I have to admit, the gesture is nice. You receive a bag/container of starter and ten days later you return a loaf of the bread to the person who gave you the starter. You also have a loaf or two for you and your family/friends/co-workers. In the end, you are left with enough starter to pass on one cup to a friend and enough to continue baking yourself. It should foster an appreciation for sharing food with friends. This is precisely what we are trying to promote on this blog.

While the idea is really lovely, I just have two small problems. I don’t want to tend to the starter unless I know that I love the resulting bread. Why would I want extra starter if I don’t want to use it myself or if I don’t have someone to pass the starter off to? Furthermore, I don’t really find the recipes for Amish Friendship Bread appealing. I think food should be simple. I don’t mind if a recipe requires time so long as that time pays off in terms of flavour or texture. What I do mind are long lists of ingredients and ingredients that have ingredients, such as the pudding mix. The majority of the recipes call for pudding mix. I don’t even know what is in pudding mix.

It shames me to admit, but the first time a friend gave me a bag of Amish Friendship Bread starter it went into the garbage. I don’t believe in wasting food. But that time I did. So in an attempt to not waste this second batch I decided I needed to simplify both the process and the recipe.

After reading over the instructions, it became apparent that the purpose of pampering the starter for ten days is to increase its volume. That is all. The majority of the recipes call for one cup of the starter. This is exactly the amount that was passed on to me. I really only needed to keep the starter for ten days (feeding it on day 5) if I wanted to have left over starter and more to pass on. So I made the decision to use all of the starter in one recipe. I also needed a birthday cake for my dad so things were going to work out well!

I realised there must be other people out there who want a simplified recipe for their Amish Friendship Bread. And after searching a few blogs, I found that there are plenty of people who are making this bread without pudding mix with varying degrees of success. Many of these people also don’t understand what, if anything, the pudding mix adds. So they have done away with it and have replaced it with mashed banana or apple sauce. Much healthier options!

I decided on the very simple recipe below because I had all of the ingredients in my pantry already.

Really Simple Amish Friendship Bread Recipe (Sans Pudding):

1 cup starter

2/3 cup oil

3 eggs

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons vanilla

Tools you need:

–          2 glass, ceramic or plastic bowls

–          1 wooden or plastic spoon/spatula

–          2 loaf pans

–          Measuring cups (dry and liquid)

–          Measuring spoons

Most recipes advise against using metal tools. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a very scientific explanation. Apparently, metal will inhibit the ability of the yeast to act as a leaven.

Directions:

  1. Combine all of the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon) in one bowl. If your bowls are two different sizes it is best to use the smaller bowl for this (see why in step 3). I like to sift my dry ingredients together into a bowl because it is pretty humid where I live and this gets rid of any lumps. I used a metal whisk to fluff up my flour before measuring it. This is generally a good idea if, like me, you buy flour in bulk and it is kept in a container. Over time the flour gets packed down and this can skew the accuracy of your measurements. Weighing your dry ingredients will also work if you can find a recipe with weight measurements and you have a food scale.
  2. In the other bowl (the larger one, if they are different sizes) combine the wet ingredients (oil, vanilla, eggs and starter). If you can, try to use liquid measuring cups. I must admit, I did not use a liquid measuring cup to measure the starter. I already had the dry 1 cup measuring cup out so I just used that. I used a metal whisk to mix the eggs and oil. Then I used a wooden spoon to mix the starter and the vanilla into egg and oil mixture.
  3. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients (which are in the larger bowl, thankfully) and use the wooden spoon to stir.
  4. At this point you can add any additional flavours you would like. I chose chocolate chips and chopped pecans simply because I had them in my pantry.
  5. Take a knob of butter and rub it around the inside of both pans and sprinkle in some sugar.
  6. Pour the batter evenly between the two pans.
  7. Bake in an oven at 350 degrees Celsius for 40 to 45 minutes.

Things I liked about the recipe:

  • It doesn’t call for pudding mix and I had all of the ingredients that it does call for in my pantry. Because this recipe omits the pudding, the sweet flavour imparted by the yeast comes through.
  • The recipe is very simple. I used only 1 dry measuring cup (the 1 cup measure), 1 wet measuring cup and one measuring spoon (the ½ teaspoon measure).

Things I didn’t like about the recipe:

  • It calls for a lot of white sugar and white flour. For a birthday cake, this is fine. It is a celebration after all. (I think “bread” is a misnomer. With this much sugar and white flour, it really is a cake.)
  • The cakes did not rise very much (maybe because I used a metal whisk and metal sieve at points during the preparation?). I think that the majority of the leavening came from the baking powder. I’m glad that I didn’t tend to the starter for ten days for this reason.

Improvements to be made:

  • I should probably remember to include the cinnamon next time! It would have added another level to the flavour. Fortunately, the cake tastes fine without it.
  • I burned the bottoms of the cakes a little bit. I have to remember that my oven is pretty hot. When I bake I often end up taking things out before the recommended bake time. 35 minutes would probably have been adequate. I am fortunate because my dad happens to like things a little burned. At least that is what he has told me my whole life. If you do accidentally burn the bottoms, don’t sweat it! Just cut the burned bottom crust off.