Monday, February 16, 2009

Better Than "Better Than No Knead Bread" Recipe

I have been seriously making bread for about 18 months now and I think I have a pretty good handle on how it works now. I make some type of dough every few days - pizza, sandwich bread, rustic bread, flat bread, foccocia, rolls, boules - whatever strikes the fancy. I have discovered that lots of my friends also like to make bread and most of them are disciples (or perhaps slaves) of the Mark Bittman (NY Times)"Better than no knead bread" recipe. Obviously, as the name implies, no knead bread doesn't require kneading and thus is pretty easy and can be quite good as well.

I am a technique cook rather than a recipe cook so I am going to talk about how to make bread REALLY WELL rather than focus on a specific detail recipe. Mark Bittman's Recipe is fine to get started. Most of you have heard the statement that cooking is flexible and creative but Baking is a "science" where exact measurements are essential. While this is true, unfortunately, the exact measurements, and techniques, in a recipe are almost guaranteed to be the wrong scientifically because of large variance in the weight of a cup of flour, the potency of your yeast, the humidity and temperature of the air, the water temperature, etc. So, good dough is really an art and a matter of understanding what it should feel and look like.

So what are the ingredients in great bread (at least the type I am going to discuss here)?

Flour: Always use AP (all purpose) unbleached white flour. If you want "whole wheat bread" you have a large challenge to make it and not have a dense, heavy, unappetising bowling ball. My solution is to add some wheat germ to your white flour - you get the nutrition and the taste without giving up lightness. Bread flour also is generally too heavy for bread (ironically) made at home by hand.

Dry Yeast: Always use instant or quick rising yeast - never use regular yeast for anything (it is actually intentionally mutilated to reduce its potency which is why it has to be reconstituted by adding water and sitting around and waiting for it to activate - quick rising yeast is up to 10 times more active and is just added dry to the flour). Depending on what you are doing you use more or less yeast to get the result you want - great bread flavor and texture develops over time - more yest means quick rising which gives you easy, quick, predictable results that doesn't taste or bite as well as less yeast. Temperature also makes a huge difference - the higher the temperature up to 105 degrees the faster and higher the rise and the less flavorful and textural. Bread can be baked within 2 hours of mixing ingredients - but great bread requires starting a day or 2 ahead of when you want to eat it and/or using my secret ingredient.

Natural Yeast: Poolish, Bigga, Levain, Chef, Sponge Sourdough starter : Great bread always uses this magical ingredient. What is it? Basically, the various names relate to country of origin, amount of water in the mix and how it is stored. My technique, has refined over time to one I am now really happy with Basically, I have a Tupperware in the refrigerator with natural yeast in it - what is called by many a "sourdough starter". How do you get this magical ingredient? How much work is it? What if you don't make dough for a week or a month?
Basically, you start with a starter you buy or get from a friend or just by taking some dough you have made with instant rise yeast, add some extra water to make it like heavy pancake flour, throw it in the Tupperware and stick it in the fridge. The start either using it at least once a week. To use it you remove about 75% of it and add it to your next bread dough as the first ingredient. Add enough water and fresh flour to the Tupperware to bring it back up to original volume, stir it up and put it back in the fridge. Whether you get a starter or start with a instant quick rise yeast packet dough within a couple of weeks you will have a "natural yeast' starter that will continue to improve in flavor over time.
The refrigerated starter you use in your bread doesn't replace instant yeast, it adds to it and adds an unbelievably good flavor and texture to the bread. It is basically no work at all and it will raise the level of you bread completely.

Water: As I explained in my Post "How to Boil Water" this is a critical ingredient. I use well water but you could you Brita home filtered, bottled water, or good tap water that has set at room temperature for 24 hours (chlorine needs to dissipate or yeast is inhibited and taste is bad). The amount of water, in relation to flour, determines the texture, rise, and many other factors in your bread. More water is a lower loaf with more open texture - less a higher, denser loaf.
Salt: Kosher or Sel de Mer of course!. Never, ever, use table salt in bread or anything else. If you are following a recipe at least DOUBLE the amount of salt. I use at least a tablespoon, and up to 2 tablespoons per loaf. Salt is a critical flavor, and staleness prevention, element in bread. It stiffens the dough and inhibits yeast though so be sure NOT to add it to your Sourdough starter - that should merely be water, flour, and previous starter base. I also sprinkle coarse Sel De Mer over the top of the bread just before putting it into oven.
Olive Oil: I only use this in specialty breads except to coat the Le Cresuet pan. I will do another post of other types of bread.
Herbs de Provence: I almost always sprinkle liberally over the top of bread, with salt, before it goes in Oven.
1. The day before you want to bake take your starter out of the refrigerator and divide and feed it. What I do is leave about 1/2 cup of starter in the Tupperware, add a cup of flour and a cup of water and stir. Put back in fridge. The remaining starter I add to another Tupperware and add 2 cups flour and 2 cups water. Put the lid on and put on counter for a couple of hours to get going and then put in fridge till next day. This step takes less than 10 minutes work.
2. Morning I want to bake I take the 4 cup starter out of the fridge. I take my Le Creuset and add fresh water till it is bout 20% full. I put on stove for a minute or less to get water to somewhere under 100 degrees (use instant read or your finger "warm"). I then add the four cups of starter to this water and stir it up well. Note, if water is over 105 degrees you will instantly kill your starter which is not good.
3. Add flour to the pan, off stove of course, stirring it in with a big spoon until it will not stir any more - still wet but starting to not allow flour to stir in. Put some plastic wrap over pan and put lid on - Do something else for 20 minutes to an hour. this step is active time of maybe 15 minutes or less.
4. Come back and scrape the dough out of the pot onto the counter top. Sprinkle a half a packet of quick rising yeast and a tablespoon or 2 of slat over the surface of the dough. Using a pastry scraper, or spatula, start "folding" the dough over in all directions, adding flour as you fold. As the dough gets less sticky and more floury you can knead a bit with your hands continuing the fold and turn and fold. When the dough gets just not too sticky to handle stop adding flour and keep folding and turning. It will get more sticky again so add a little more flour - you just want to be on the edge of sticky surface. this process takes about 20 minutes.
5. Oil the Le Creusent with olive oil and put the dough in - put the lid on. Let the dough rise for a couple of hours until it has risen near the top of the pan. You can now sprinkle salt and herbs de provence on the top of the dough.
6. Preheat the oven with the Le Crueset lid in it to 450 degrees. When it is ready to do put the Le Creuset on top the stove over high heat for about 4-5 minutes to heat the heavy metal bottom of the pan, Put the Le Creuset in the oven, put the hot lid on it. Cook for 15 minutes and then remove the lid and lower the temperature of the oven to 375 and insert remote thermometer inserted in the bread. Cook about another 20 minutes until the internal temp of the bread is 200 to 210 degrees.
7. Turn the bread out of the pan onto a rack and let sit for at least an hour. If you cut it sooner the texture of the bread will suffer from the loss of steam/moisture.
8. Note day old bread is revived by heating it in the toaster or oven. SO even if making sandwiches for the lunch box toast the bread before you start. Also, bread MUST NOT BE STORED IN REFRIGERATOR or in plastic bags - it will spoil and lose all texture and flavor. Just keep on counter or in an open paper bag. The reason Mass produced bread stays "fresh" in the oven is that it is saturated with additives and chemicals that you don't even want to think about. Real bread is good on the counter for several days if revived for use.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Listen to Steve when he tells you about making bread...his bread is AWESOME! He bakes for us at least twice a week, babysitting Lyla and we are completely spoiled! He's a master in the kitchen and his bread is outstanding.