Tuesday, April 14, 2009

no-knead bread

no-knead bread

Oh hi, I know I’ve all but vanished into the void. I’m sorry about that. I’ve been wanting to write for over two weeks now, but somehow the words fail me. You see, dear reader, I found myself in a perfect storm, where too many pieces of my life came to a head all at once. And still yet, around me, so much uncertainty still swirls that when I sit down and want to write about bread and cabbage and biscotti, all of which I owe you belatedly, I just stare at an empty page with no so much as a single sentence that can be squeezed out.

Certainly, there are some lovely, shimmery things going on. Things that bring me to smile, and keep me grounded and sane – like running, and my upcoming half marathon on April 26, for instance. I ran a 10K in the pouring rain on Saturday in the park and felt so elated and overjoyed, I wanted to bottle up that feeling and send it to everyone I love. My friends have been unbelievably supportive and nurturing, reaching out, checking up on me, keeping up my spirits. I want to hug them all at once – a girl can get so lucky sometimes.

amazing things are to come from this... floured surface - up-close

Without going into much detail, there are some possibly dark uncertainties insofar as family health is concerned. There is much left to be learned and we’ll wait patiently on the results, but until then, it’s a lot of worrying and waking up in the middle of the night and just sitting quietly in the dark listening to a wind chime somewhere outside. That wind chime, I tell you, has been a sore spot for me ever since I moved into this apartment, which in every other way, has been idyllic. But in the last few weeks, when I have found myself piercing the inky darkness of the room, that wind chime with its infrequent sounds, made me feel a little less alone. I hope, I pray, for good news in the meantime. This is all I have – hope.

bubbles!!! cornmeal coating -- a bit much?

Quite frankly, there’s a small maelstrom of worrysome activity that all kind of came down all at once. Within days, really. And all I could do was just go for long runs, alphabetize my books, reorganize my kitchen. Little areas of control. They ground me.

ready for the oven

And it’s so easy, at a time like this, to feel very much not in control of anything – it gets quite overwhelming. My mind feels a bit scattered, like pieces of a puzzle that need to be put together to form one coherent thought, one complete picture. And it’s at times like these that I turn to my kitchen for guidance and comfort. For me, the kitchen has always been a place of clarity and sorting out my thoughts – it’s my equivalent of a yoga studio, except for head stands and downward-facing dogs and warrior poses, I have doughs and soups and roasts and cookies to make. I control the outcome and the results bring comfort.

no-knead bread

So when I found myself, two weeks back, so completely defeated I was at a loss for words. My parents were on the other end of the phone and I just stayed quiet – no words came to me, my mind drew a complete blank. When we finally hung up, I went to my pantry and took out the flour.

I had meant to make no-knead bread for so long, I am embarrassed to even say. I think I am the last person in the blogosphere to do it. And perhaps I was saving this recipe for just the kind of moment when you just have to bake bread. All else has failed – and you bake bread instead. You mix the flour and the yeast and water and somehow dough comes together and then rises and permeates your house with that sweet, fermented smell – the kind that makes your home smell comforting and cozy.

warm bread is pretty much the most amazing thing

I must say though that I wasn’t floored with it. I wanted more from my bread, and that, I suppose, comes from kneading and working with the dough. I loved eating the warm bread, loved it with eggs and cabbage, loved spreading ricotta over it and eating it with figs, drizzled honey and black pepper (oh yes, that’s coming!). But I wanted something more from it – what it is, I can’t quite put my finger on. Still, the satisfaction of having made my own bread brought great comfort and desire to make more. I’m curious to experiment with different flours and recipes. And I long for that smell to fill my apartment once more.


No-Knead Bread

Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
via New York Times

Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

Preparation:
1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is 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 towel (not terry cloth) 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. 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.

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31 Comments

  • 1
    Luisa said:

    I’m so sorry you’ve got so much weighing on you right now. I hope the clouds pass soon. Sounds like you’ve got good friends to keep you surrounded and busy… xx

    April 14, 2009 1:26 pm
  • 2
    Shelly said:

    I’m glad you enjoyed the no knead recipe. I loved it when I found the recipe last fall- practice really makes perfect when it comes to making it and modifying it to suit your tastes! I tweeted you my favorite variation: honey-walnut whole wheat.
    I am sorry that you have so many worries. I hope they pass soon.

    April 14, 2009 1:30 pm
  • 3
    kickpleat said:

    I totally understand being worried about all that darkness because I’m dealing with very dire family health issues as well, but you must keep on keeping on! I really liked the no knead bread (I also just made it this weekend) but then again my bread baking experience is pretty nil.

    April 14, 2009 1:42 pm
  • 4
    Lisa said:

    If you’re having a bad day, you definitely need to knead–it’s wonderful therapy! I hope your life resumes its balance soon.

    April 14, 2009 1:46 pm
  • 5

    Whatever dark clouds are passing through your life right now I hope they lift soon. In the meantime, bread therapy is a good idea. Especially that great Lahey recipe. All the best. Hang in there.

    April 14, 2009 2:28 pm
  • 6
    thea said:

    just like i say
    when things get tough
    first they’re flakey and all you can hope for is that they get wet, sticky, and then they’ll mesh together into something wonderful or atleast something easy to maneuver
    i hope everything gets better for you
    <3 lots of love

    April 14, 2009 2:40 pm
  • 7
    ann said:

    Sending you a fuzzy kitten hanging from a branch!

    April 14, 2009 3:34 pm
  • 8
    Jenny said:

    I really enjoy reading your blog, and hope things get better for you soon. Hang in there x
    PS – I haven’t made no-knead bread yet so you aren’t the last!

    April 14, 2009 4:06 pm
  • 9
    Molly said:

    I cook when things feel out of control, too. I hope good news comes for you all soon!

    April 14, 2009 4:10 pm
  • 10
    Silke said:

    I’ve been reading and enjoying your blog for a while and am sorry to hear you are having such a hard time right now. I do understand how you feel about being in your kitchen for comfort. I am sending good thoughts your way and hope that the storm clouds clear out soon! Silke

    April 14, 2009 4:47 pm
  • 11
    Andrea said:

    I haven’t made the bread either… I do love your blog, though, and I wish you well. Maybe you could get your own set of wind chimes to work into the night. I’ve always liked those big ones that make incredibly lusty low notes…

    April 14, 2009 6:15 pm
  • 12
    Rona said:

    I always say that you never know what other people are going thru in their lives. Some have to deal with sick loved ones, health issues, family problems etc. I think we become closer when we talk about those problems and realize we are not alone. Friends, even strangers, can be counted on for support if we realize how similar our lives are. We are here for a very short time, why not help each other thru the bad times as well as the good? I hope that your situation is resolved in the best way. I turn to baking and cleaning when I feel trapped in uncertainty. Wishing you and your family best wishes.

    April 14, 2009 6:23 pm
  • 13

    Beautiful photos. Sending good thoughts to you–I hope your family will be okay.

    April 14, 2009 6:27 pm
  • 14

    I simply must insist that you get Dan Lepard’s book The Handmade Loaf. It is chock full of no knead recipes that are fabulous (the barley loaf and the onion bread are particularly great). It will provide you with endless options for distraction to get you through this period. By the way, I’m impressed you are even up to baking. When my family was going through something similar no one could make a decision about anything…not even what to eat for dinner, much less what to cook!

    April 14, 2009 7:02 pm
  • 15
    Amanda said:

    No matter what happens, I hope you realize how much your blog means to everyone here and that you can always count on some trusty fellow bloggers to lean on. Just look at all the messages of love and support posted here. You’ve got lots of supporters here (me being one of them) and I send you nothing but warm wishes and good vibes. And kudos on all your marathon training. You are literally a rockstar!

    April 14, 2009 9:08 pm
  • 16
    Sophie said:

    MMMMMM….Home made bread! Your breda looks stunning!!!
    I bet it tasted fab!

    April 15, 2009 5:12 am
  • 17
    radish said:

    i cannot even begin to tell you how grateful i am for your comments and how uplifting they have been to read – thank you all. i am really hopeful that we will be good news in the next few days. for the time being, waiting is the only thing. thank you, all!

    April 15, 2009 9:32 am
  • 18
    Arlene said:

    My sincere best wishes to you and your family.
    Cooks Illustrated did a story on no-knead bread. They felt the same as you – that the bread lacked something. They reworked the recipe a bit and it is fabulous. The recipe is on their site.

    April 15, 2009 2:17 pm
  • 19
    Chilli said:

    Best wishes…hoping your worries go away and everything is alright soon.
    You certainly wouldn’t be the last person to try this recipe since I haven’t even heard of it before now. Missed it somehow. Can’t wait to try it!

    April 15, 2009 8:44 pm
  • 20
    LunaCafe said:

    Thanks for sharing this. Clearly, you’re surrounded by love. Sending good thoughts your way…Susan

    April 16, 2009 8:00 am
  • 21
    Ulla said:

    You have one of the most beautiful well-written blogs out there(I really mean it). I hope you find that this storm clears. It is such a nutty time, I lost my job last month and I am trying to keep positive but sometimes it is impossible. thanks for the honesty in this post, it is why I love your blog!

    April 16, 2009 1:12 pm
  • 22

    Now thats my kind of home made bread!

    April 17, 2009 8:26 pm
  • 23
    maris said:

    I’ve been wanting to try this recipe for ages! I’ve made no knead English muffin bread and it was great so I imagine this would be even more amazing!

    April 18, 2009 11:17 am
  • 24
    Carey said:

    Sorry to hear about the health troubles. Have you tried bread from the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a day book? I tried the No Knead bread last year and I had the same reaction, but when I started the 5 minute breads, it changed me. I haven’t bought a loaf of bread since the new year. AWESOME bread!
    Try it.

    April 18, 2009 9:14 pm
  • 25
    Irene said:

    I love these photos. And you are not the only person who has not tried no-knead bread — I think the last person is me (I don’t have the proper vessel to bake it in, sadly). Maybe it’s just me, but I really enjoy kneading bread. My mind works so fast sometimes, so I try to make it stop and work only in the necessities of the moment. Kneading bread is always therapeutic for me, like running or painting or playing music. Sending out a little prayer for everything to be ok with you.

    April 19, 2009 2:53 am
  • 26

    I saw a lot of posts about no knead bread a while back but never tried it. If it works, I’ll give it a go though.

    May 2, 2009 12:20 pm
  • 27

    I saw Alton Brown do this on Good Eats! It was magical. Looks delicioso!

    May 21, 2009 4:25 pm
  • 28
    Sarah said:

    Thanks for this recipe, it looks fantastic, I’m always sure that my kneading lets my bread down. I’ll certainly try this next time!

    May 23, 2009 1:07 pm
  • 29
    Marie said:

    I have tried this recipe twice now and as a person with no talent for bread making it has actually turned out to resemble a loaf of bread! I tweaked it the second time by substituting 1 cup of bread flour with whole wheat flour, wheat germ, and ground flax. I also added honey to the starter. This helped to give the bread more flavor. I also reduced the oven temp to 410, took the cover off for the last 15 minutes, baked it for only 40 minutes and Yum! Good crust and moist interior. Love the ease of it all.

    May 27, 2009 1:43 pm
  • 30
    Mikey said:

    I very much enjoyed the no-knead bread from Lahey’s book. However, I fully understand your feeling of wanting more out of the experience. Yes, it makes really good bread. And yes, it is so easy a child could do it. And I had fun doing it, and loved seeing that beautiful load come out of the oven. But it’s so effortless that the experience feels somewhat hollow. I didn’t put any of myself into the bread, I didn’t utilize any special skill or technique. I just followed the paint-by-numbers directions and turned out a really good loaf of bread. So you have to ask yourself — do you want a good loaf of bread made easy? If so, this is your ticket. If, however, you want to be involved in the process — the art even — then you’ll want something that allows more hands-on involvement. Or perhaps you can use this recipe as a model and find ways to make it your own.

    -Mikey

    January 4, 2010 6:11 pm
  • 31
    Radish said:

    Mikey – completely agree on everything you wrote. I plan on working on some bread this winter – I feel like it’s the perfect time to bake homey goods.

    January 4, 2010 7:00 pm

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