This weekend we had some friends over for dinner, and I made bread, using Jim Lahey's No Knead Bread Recipe that was adapted by Mark Bittman in the NY Times here, or his book How to Cook Everything. The recipe is fool proof, with just four basic ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast. What makes this recipe so unique and easy is that after you initially mix the ingredients, you just have to let it rest for 18 hours or longer. This helps the bread develop lots of flavor and texture. After the waiting period, all you have to do is shape it and bake it.
Of course, being loosey -goosey with the recipe (something you should never do with baking, they say), I made a few changes....
This is the dough after mixing up flour, salt, water and yeast, and after I've formed it into a ball to rest. The recipe calls for instant yeast, but I only had traditional so I used that instead. Of course, with traditional yeast, you have to proof it in water and a bit of sugar before adding to the flour.
The dough becomes bubbly and very wet after the 24 hour period. As you can see it has more or less doubled in size. What a wonder! It smells really good too, a little like beer.
The yeasty mixture is then dumped onto a floured board, where you shape it. I added some rosemary, sage and thyme to the dough and this point, and gave it a couple of minutes of good kneading. Even though the recipe is a 'no knead' one, I actually like slapping the dough and feeling it under my palms. [note: see the Claire Denis film Nenette et Boni for some dough action]
The dough is sent to rest for a couple of more hours. I followed a few other bakers' advice and set it on parchment paper for easier handling. Heat the oven to 450 degrees with your baking vessel. Then transfer the dough on to the freakin' hot baking dish. This is when the parchment becomes very useful.
Here's where I deviated the most. The recipe calls for baking in a covered dish (preferably a Dutch oven, which is on my most wanted list), but alas, I don't own any appropriate baking dishes with covers. Instead, I baked it, uncovered, in a cast iron frying pan. To achieve a crunchy, chewy crust, I spritzed some water in the oven every 10 minutes or so.
I must say, the results were wonderful! I'd made this bread many times before, but the bread had never ever risen this much. Was it the traditional yeast? I have no idea. But the bread was a voluminous golden brown creation, with a chewy crust and a fluffy and flavourful interior.