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I’m making real bread; or, Laura Kneads Some Dough

January 24, 2007

Mmmm…bread 

I don’t know why I got it into my head that the Lahey/Bittman No-Knead Bread wasn’t real bread, but I became determined, after making two or three knead-free loaves, to make a more traditional loaf. I wanted to see how they compared, and to better understand how this No-Knead phenomenon actually worked.

Where else to go for a traditional, basic bread recipe but The Joy of Cooking. I know some people who shun this omnipresent kitchen staple of a cookbook, for being too basic, too boring, for being (how could they say it!) actually wrong. But I love my copy. Whenever I’m cooking something new, I first consult with Irma, just to get a handle on the basics. I suppose it’s true that I rarely follow the recipes from the book word for word, but the book helps me lay a nice foundation. It’s comforting, somehow, sitting up there on my shelf, full of instruction on just about any food item in existence. Obviously, I’m going to check in with The Joy of Cooking before I make my first loaf of “real” bread.

After reading page after page about using the right materials, and measuring properly, and kneading, and scoring, and batards, and couches, I finally felt ready to make some bread.

Basic Fast Yeast Bread

One benefit to the kneading-required kind of bread is that it’s easier to fit into my schedule. The slow rise of the Lahey bread made it sometimes a bit difficult to work out, but this bread, all in all, took about 3 hours.

  • 2-3 c. bread flour (I used whole wheat bread flour)
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast (I’m still not entirely sure what all these different yeast varieties are all about, but I just used what was already in the fridge, and it seemed to work fine.)
  • 1 1/4 tsp. salt (I threw in just a bit more, because I like salty bread)
  • 1 c. very warm water (I ended up using a bit more water)
  • 2 T. melted butter

In a large mixing bowl, stir together 2 cups of flour, the sugar, yeast, and salt. Add a cup of water, and the melted butter, and stir it all together with a fork for about a minute. Then, add more flour, 1/4 cup at a time. You’ll end up using somewhere between 3/4 to 1 cup more flour, and it’s easier, at this point, if you use your hands to mix. You want the dough to be moist, but not sticky. I had to add a little more water here.

Turn out the dough onto a large surface, and start kneading. The dough should feel kind of silky, and warm, and be almost the consistency of play-doh. Use the heel of your palm, and push from your back, to really shove the dough into the counter. Turn it over and around while you’re kneading, so you are sure to be smooshing all proteins together or whatever.

Kneaded

The Joy of Cooking tells me that kneading actually develops gluten, which I didn’t know. Apparently, there are two proteins in flour, gliadin and glutenin, and when they’re combined with liquid, they form gluten. Kneading makes the gluten’s cellular structure loosen and lengthen. Cool stuff.

You should knead the dough for about ten minutes. Then shape the dough into a ball. Oil a large mixing bowl, and put the dough in the bowl, turning it around so the surface is oiled. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap, and let it sit and rise for 30 to 45 minutes. It’s supposed to be pretty warm in the room, and our house isn’t that warm, so it took a little bit longer for the first rise.

Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, and shape into a loaf shape. You want to shape it by kind of stretching the surface of the dough and tucking it under, so there’s a seam on the bottom of the loaf. Oil a loaf pan, about 8 x 4 inches, and put the dough in the pan, seam side down. Cover again with plastic wrap, and let it go through a second rise, for another 30 to 45 mintues.

Yay for bread!

While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In order to steam the bread, which helps it develop a nice crust, preheat a small baking dish in the bottom of the oven, too. A small metal baking dish. I, er, um, chose a glass baking dish, and when I poured in the water for the steaming, it totally cracked. Which sucked. Sorry to whichever housemate owned the small baking dish. I’ll buy you another.

ooops

Once the dough has again doubled in size, it’s ready to bake. Pour some water in the hot pan, and put the bread pan on the rack above it. Bake it at 450F for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350F and bake for about 30 minutes more. The Joy of Cooking says to bake it until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when it’s tapped, but how the crap are you supposed to tap the bottom of the loaf without taking it out of the pan, is what I want to know.

Hot Loaf Shot

I let mine cook for exactly half an hour, and it was perfect. And it does sound hollow when you tap it on the top, too. I suppose I could ask for a slightly crustier crust, but I suspect that my dish disaster might have had something to do with that. All in all, a very excellent first attempt at real bread. It’s really not intimidating at all!

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