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almost no-knead bread

so, after another brief (ha!) hiatus, i’m back sharing my kitchen adventures. to be honest, besides being consumed by work this fall and winter, it took me a little while to get excited about baking again. planning time to bake, take pictures, and post took away some of the spontaneity and fun of it, but a few things have helped me get back on track lately. one, the girl got a new digital SLR, with which she has generously let me play. but two, more importantly, i spent a few days at my parent’s house for christmas, and i was reminded of the care my mom puts into the dozen plus varieties of cookies she makes for the holidays each year. she does it because she loves to bake, and she loves to see others enjoy her baking. it’s the reason i started blogging in the first place, and it’s re-inspired me. i feel privileged to share these photos and recipes and stories with all of you.

so onto the bread. this is not the first time i’ve attempted no-knead bread, but it is the first time it’s actually come out right, and i have christopher kimball to thank for that. until just recently, the girl and i had 6 meager tv channels in our place, one of which was the truly awesome WETA “create” network which is nothing but PBS cooking and baking shows. every night, it was jacques p├ępin, julia child and, our favorite, america’s test kitchen.

i was surprised to see their version of no-knead bread that, well, required some kneading. it also included a bit of beer, which got me interested. i decided to get back on the horse and whip up a batch. for the most part, it follows jim lahey’s original recipe, but the beer gives it a bit of flavor, and a tablespoon of vinegar helps stabilize the loaf. the ingredients still come together quickly and easily.

and like the original, the majority of the work is done overnight as the bread rises (8-18 hours).

don’t mind me, just doing a quick knead, won’t be a sec.

ok, all set.

i’ve learned that when the recipe tells you to score the bread, score it deep enough to really open up the dough. the idea is to direct where the bread will expand during the “oven spring” (when it first hits the heat of the oven and expands). i happen to have a bread scorer [1], but any sharp knife will do.

this bread truly comes out best when baked in a dutch oven. it’s the best way to get the heat and steam needed for a good rise and the perfect crust. don’t be afraid of a deep, dark crust – bread baked in a home oven usually takes more time than in a commercial oven, because it’s harder to get the temperature high enough at home.

it’s amazing that a dough that takes all of 5 minutes to prepare could produce such a beautiful crumb and robust taste. it’s great by itself, or even better toasted with a little butter. if you’ve tried the original no-knead recipe (either with success or failure), it’s worth trying this one as well.

almost no-knead bread
makes one delicious loaf. from america’s test kitchen [2] (requires a login).

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (15 oz), plus additional for dusting work surface
1/4 tsp instant or rapid-rise yeast (or 1/2 tsp dry active yeast)
1 1/2 tsp table salt
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp water (7 ounces), at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp mild-flavored lager (3 ounces)
1 Tbsp white vinegar

1. whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl. add water, beer, and vinegar. using rubber spatula or a wooden spoon, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until shaggy ball forms. cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours.

2. lay 12- by 18-inch sheet of parchment paper inside 10-inch skillet and spray with nonstick cooking spray. transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead 10 to 15 times. shape dough into ball by pulling edges into middle. transfer dough, seam-side down, to parchment-lined skillet and spray surface of dough with nonstick cooking spray. cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with finger, about 2 hours.

3. about 30 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place 6- to 8-quart heavy-bottomed dutch oven (with lid) on rack, and heat oven to 500F. lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or sharp knife, make one 6-inch-long, 1/2-inch-deep slit along top of dough. carefully remove pot from oven and remove lid. pick up dough by lifting parchment overhang and lower into pot (let any excess parchment hang over pot edge). cover pot and place in oven. reduce oven temperature to 425F and bake covered for 30 minutes. remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 210 degrees, 20 to 30 minutes longer. carefully remove bread from pot; transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.