Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A mini loaf

For Christmas last year, I received a breadmaker from my mother. Now, I live in a pretty cramped two-bedroom apartment with my husband and toddler, so while I appreciated the sentiment (kitchen gadgets!), my cupboard space would not cooperate. For the first time I can recall, I RETURNED A CHRISTMAS GIFT (Normally, I'd be much too lazy to bother, but I had to get rid of the damn thing- I literally had nowhere to put it!) But, despite the fact that I chose not to keep it, the inspiration remained. I decided to bake some bread from scratch for the first time. I used a recipe for baguettes that I found online and I was mildly impressed, but not overwhelmed. The loaves were dense, and not very chewy. My next attempt, inspired by the flickr photo stream of Stephanie Congdon-Barnes, I baked a batch of pita bread. It came out better, but I managed to burn my hand pretty bad and the pitas didn't puff up into the pockets I'd hoped for. When my friend Claire Evans insisted to me that the No Knead recipe was the bee's knees, I believed her, but was too lazy to give it a try. Eventually, she convinced me, and I remain blown away. BELIEVE THE HYPE, PEOPLE. NO KNEAD BREAD IS THE BOMB.

After baking loaf after loaf of No Knead bread, tweaking the instructions to suit my needs- I ended up slightly burnt out on bread. The problem? If I have a huge-ass loaf of bread in front of me, I'm going to eat it. That's all there is to it! Bread with honey (haha!), bread with olive oil and sea salt, bread with butter, bread with hummus- seriously dudes, I can't stop eating bread. The only problem is that my ASS IS BALLOONING WITH EVERY LOAF LIKE SO MUCH RISING DOUGH. The solution? A no-knead mini-loaf! Here is my adaptation of the original NY Times recipe, tailored to fit the needs of the individual who finds themself unable to resist a warm loaf of fresh bread.


But first, few notes on the original recipe:
A lot of people are dismayed to realize that the recipe calls for a dutch oven or other kind of baking apparatus to keep the bread moist while the crust forms. It's not a big deal, dudes! I use my large stainless steel stockpot that happens to be oven-safe. If you know that your pots and pans are oven-safe, go for it! Or use a casserole dish. You don't need a Le Creuset cast iron dutch oven to make this loaf. Even better news? For the mini-loaf, I just used a regular-sized pot from my stainless steel set. I happen to know that my set is oven-safe, but if you're not sure, just use a casserole dish or something. A tight-fitting lid is key.

The original recipe calls for a generous dusting of corn meal, wheat bran, or flour. The first time I made this bread, I dusted the whole loaf in cornmeal- which was GREAT for keeping it from sticking to the pot, the board you use to let it rise, or the cloth you cover it with, BUT it makes the whole damn loaf taste like corn. I've switched to dusting with plain flour only, but sprinkling the bottom of the pan I cook it in with cornmeal to give it that extra crunch and that sort of pizza dough type flavor on the bottom, without being overwhelming.

The original recipe asks you to let the dough rise on a flour or cornmeal dusted cloth. That's cool if you like SCRAPING OLD STICKY DOUGH OFF OF YOUR CLOTH, but I find that to be a pain in the ass. I've been letting it sit on wax paper, though parchment paper would probably work better, I just don't have any.


Okay that's it- here's the recipe as I made it today. I just halved the original recipe, haha!

1.5 cups of flour (Use bread flour! I think it makes a difference. It might be all in my head, but I don't care.)
A little less than 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt (Eyeball it, guys- it's not a huge deal. Bread isn't life or death when it comes to measurements, or so Martha tells me.)
1/8 of a teaspoon of instant yeast (Okay, raise your hand if you have a 1/8 tsp. measuring spoon. I don't. I just filled my 1/4 tsp. up, then I knocked about half the yeast out.)
3/4 cup water, or a few drops more.

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl using a whisk, then add water and stir until combined. The dough should be shaggy and sticky. You can transfer into an oiled bowl, but honestly I don't think it makes much of a difference. Cover tightly with plastic and let it sit for at least 15 hours. I usually let mine sit for about 20 hours, I think it works best that way. My apartment is on the chilly side, though- if it were warmer, I might let it go for a slightly shorter time. I try to plan it so that my bread goes into the oven about 24 hrs after I make the dough, that way I don't forget when to put it in.
After the first rise (15-20-some hours), scrape the dough out onto a heavily floured surface (wax paper! with flour on it!). Make sure you have flour all over your hands because it's going to be sticky. Flop the dough over onto itself once or twice, don't over-handle it. It doesn't need to look all perfect. Just let it sit for about 15 minutes. Then, quickly form the dough into a ball (folding the corners into the middle works well) and set it seam-side down onto a sheet of parchment or wax paper, or a heavily floured cloth. Cover with a non-terrycloth towel and let it sit for another 2 hours.
Half an hour before the bread goes in the oven, preheat at 450˚f with your baking pan in the oven. After the half hour is up, take out your pan, sprinkle the bottom with cornmeal, and dump the dough in, seam-side up. Cover and return to the oven. Bake 20 minutes covered, 20 minutes uncovered, give or take a few at the end depending on how brown you want your crust.


That's it! This mini-recipe will yield a small loaf of crusty white bread, suitable for dipping in homemade soups, drenching in half-melted butter, or whatever else you like to do with your bread. It's a nice, small amount and if you end up eating half the damn loaf, you don't have to feel like a pig about it. Rock and roll!


PonyBoy Press said...

This is great. I am the same way about good bread, if it is there, I will eat it for every meal! I usually don't buy big loafs for this reason.

This still seems like a lot of work (vs buying a loaf at the bakery), but I think I am going to give it a try. Thanks!

Alicia Carrier said...

well, it is sort of a lot of work, but not really. it's really easy if you're home all the time, like i am. (since i stay home with my kid.) really it takes like 5 seconds to put the dough together, then the next day you come back to it, flop it around a couple of times, and pop it in the oven. now that i've gotten the hang of making it, it feels like no work at all. the only down side is that if i want some bread, i have to start it a day in advance. my favorite thing about it though, is feeling like such a badass for baking what looks like the fanciest loaf of bread ever, even though it was super easy.

domestic porn said...

I keep hearing about this recipe and if my yeast didn't expire last year sometime I would start it now!
Thanks for making it seem so appealing! Yeast is on my shopping list!

jaybird said...

Thank you for this. I tried the full loaf last year. It was heavy and not good. I hope I can make this.