White Bread, Three Ways: Part II
Last week’s bread menu featured Betty Crocker’s version of a white sandwich loaf, a straightforward recipe using an old-school (and familiar) methodology of kneading and proofing.
On tap this week are two recipes from the School of No-Knead, a decidedly different approach to getting a decent crumb. And within the no-knead world, there are variations on the theme, as we’ll learn in the coming days.
I’m a newbie when it comes to no-knead bread, which means at this point, I am unable to authoritatively determine if I baked a good loaf (or not). It sure does taste good, which I suppose says a lot, and it’s got more developed flavor characteristics than my Betty Crocker loaf. It’s got a darker crust and has a denser mouth feel, but where does that leave us with an overall grade or assessment? The jury is still out.
I like kneading; in fact, I’m “kneady,” as described by my friend (and Culinate editor) Kim Carlson, so being told I will not be kneading my dough is kind of like tying my hands behind my back. Despite my fetish, I’m game to keep at the no-knead thing until I begin to see consistent patterns and can make a fair determination. One thing I already know for sure: I’m not crazy about the delayed gratification that comes with this method; it was 24 hours before I had my first slice of bread.
Bread makers, do you have a preference? What’s your fancy: knead or no-knead? Throw some crumbs into the comments area or weigh in today at 1 ET for this week’s What’s Cooking.
Easy White Loaves
From “Kneadlessly Simple” by Nancy Baggett
6 ½ cups (32.5 ounces) unbleached white bread flour, plus more as needed
3 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon instant, fast-rising or bread machine yeast
1/3 cup flavorless vegetable oil, such as corn or canola, plus extra for coating dough tops and baking pans
2 ¾ cups ice water, plus more if needed
In a very large bowl, thoroughly stir together flour, sugar, salt and yeast.
In a medium bowl or measuring cup, whisk oil into the water. Thoroughly stir oil-water mixture into flour mixture, scraping down sides until thoroughly blended. If mixture is too dry to incorporate all the flour, a bit at a time, stir in just enough more water to blend ingredients. Don’t over-moisten, as the dough should be stiff. If necessary, stir in more flour to stiffen it.
Brush or spray top of dough with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap.
Refrigerate dough, 3-10 hours. (Optional, but Baggett recommends this extra step, aka “delayed first fermentation,” for better flavor, claiming that the cold rise with cold water has “significant chemical benefits….With the yeast out of commission, some enzymes in the flour go to work breaking down damaged starch into sugars. Normally the yeast organisms would rev up activity in the presence of this banquet, but instead they remain available to significantly improve bread taste, crust color and appearance. Other enzymes are also busy softening and smoothing the crumb and strengthening the gluten.”)
Remove from refrigerator and let dough rise at cool room temperature (about 70 degrees), 15-20 hours. If convenient, stir the dough about halfway through the rise.
Vigorously stir the dough, adding more dough if necessary to yield a very stiff consistency. Use well-oiled kitchen shears or a serrated knife, cut dough in half, placing portions in two well-greased 8 ½ x 4 1/2 –inch loaf pans.
Smooth and press dough into pans using a well-oiled rubber spatula or your fingertips. Evenly brush or spray dough tops with oil. Make a ½-inch deep slash lengthwise down the center of each loaf. Tightly cover the pans with nonstick spray-coated plastic wrap.
For a regular rise (1 ½ -2 ½ hours), let stand at warm room temperature; for an accelerated rise (1-2 hours), let stand in a turned-off microwave, along with 1 cup of boiling-hot water. For an extended rise, refrigerate, covered, 4-24 hours, then set at room temperature.
Continue rise until dough nears the plastic. Remove plastic and allow dough to keep rising, until it reaches ½ inch above pan rims. Dust each loaf evenly with 1 tablespoon flour.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. When ready to bake, reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until tops are nicely browned. Cover tops with foil if necessary. Bake an additional 15-25 minutes, or until the center of the loaf registers 208-210 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. (This was a first for me.) Bake an additional 5-10 minutes to ensure centers are baked through. (Baggett insists that you cannot overbake no-knead bread.) Cool in pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn out loaves onto racks and cool thoroughly.
Store airtight in plastic bags or wrapped in foil Bread will keep at room temperature for 2-3 days, and may be frozen, airtight, for up to two months.
Makes 2 loaves.
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