Thursday, June 21, 2012

Whole Wheat No-Knead Bread

The idea of no-knead bread was introduced by Jim Lahey, in this New York Times article a few years ago. All credit for the idea goes to him, of course. I've made variations on this recipe over the course of those years, but I've found I like the simplest version the best. This loaf uses 2/3 whole grain flours and produces a wonderfully crusty, bubbly loaf with extremely minimal effort.

 The idea of no-knead bread is that an extended rising time lets the gluten develop without kneading. You only use a small amount of yeast (otherwise you would have a dough explosion!).  I love this recipe for its hands-off nature. I've discussed bread-making before, and how it really only takes a few minutes of effort, spaced out over time, but this recipe takes that a step further. You mix the ingredients, cover and let rest for 18-24 hours (longer is better).  Punch it down, let it rise another hour or two, then bake. You're hands-on for all of 10 minutes to produce a bakery-quality loaf.

This requires some pre-planning of course - because the rise time is so long, you need to be prepared to wait for your bread. Probably no big deal - but if you want something to make for dinner tonight, this recipe isn't it.  But if you can plan ahead, this recipe is so easy that it's well-worth the extra wait time.
 The other special requirement here is a cast-iron dutch oven. I use this one from Lodge (who makes great cast-iron cookware), but you could use another brand, including an enameled version. If your dutch oven has a plastic handle, remove it before placing it in the oven (it can melt!) - there are metal replacement knobs available for Le Creuset dutch ovens.  If your dutch oven is small, you can bake two smaller loaves; I bake one large loaf in the Lodge oven. If you don't have, and don't want to purchase, a cast iron dutch oven, you can try baking this loaf on a regular old baking sheet - it's likely that it will turn out fine, but the crust will not be the same.

I've written the directions below the way I make this bread, which differ a bit from the original method, but feel free to follow the NYT instructions if you prefer.

Whole Wheat No-Knead Bread
You can use different flours or proportions of flours here if you like - but stick with gluten-containing flours (like wheat) to ensure good texture. And yes, the tiny amount of yeast is really all you need.
Yield: 1 loaf

1 cup whole wheat bread flour
1 cup bread flour
1 cup whole grain spelt flour
1/4 tsp yeast
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water
Additional flour or cornmeal, for dusting

1. Stir together flours, yeast, and salt. Make a well in the center with your fist, then pour in the water. Stir to combine, until a dough forms. If it is too dry, add additional water 1 tbsp at a time. If it is too wet, add additional flour 1 tbsp at a time. This should be a sticky dough.
2. Place in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise 18-24 hours. (I place it on top of the fridge.)
3. After the rise, punch down the dough and shape into a round loaf. Place on a baking sheet dusted with flour or cornmeal, cover with a clean dish towel, and let rise 1-2 more hours, until at least doubled in size.
4. Place a covered cast iron dutch oven in your oven (adjust the racks as necessary first).  Heat the oven to 450 degrees, allowing at least 30 minutes to pre-heat. 
5. Carefully uncover the dutch oven, place the dough in the bottom, and re-cover. Bake 30 minutes, until golden brown. (The original recipe says to bake an additional 15-30 minutes uncovered, but I found the loaf was done at 30 minutes. If you like a darker crust, let it go uncovered a bit longer.)  

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