Thursday, November 21, 2013

Baking: Breaking Bread

Guys, I really thought I was going to blow up the kitchen last night.  The oven was turned up to its absolute max (and that was not even the temperature it needed to be at).  It smelled like plastic burning for nearly the entire time.

I anxiously pictured the oven exploding shards of glass and crock pot into a thousand pieces like a bomb.  In one of my less controlled moments, I pictured burned skin and melting flesh.  I digress, but obviously I was letting my overactive imagination run really fast really far.

I just am not used to turning up the oven to 450-475 degrees Fahrenheit. That is HOT.  And it smelled and seemed like our oven was not used to that kind of heat either.

So what the heck was I making?

No-knead bread.  You know the one.  It revolutionized foodie blogs when The New York Times published the recipe adapted from the kind folks at Sullivan Street Bakery.

I made a half loaf last night, having not made this bread since I lived in the East Village many moons ago.  I had forgotten how tasty it was.  And how easy.
It does not look like much, raw
Despite the intimidating oven temperature, fresh bread is so worth it because it smells so good.  I forget how much I like the warm, humid scent of yeast rising, and how primitive (in a good way) and comforting it is to eat just-baked bread.  Made and baked with your own hands, whee!
24 hours later, plopped on my bamboo cutting board waiting for the oven to heat
I adapted the recipe to make half a loaf this time- mainly because I was almost out of flour.  If you are a person who prefers the crust, making two half loaves doubles your surface area, leaving you with more crispy crust.  If you do bake only half a loaf, though, your cooking time will be slightly shorter - only 20 minutes with the lid on (instead of the full 30).
An oven shot, as it is cooking for the final 15 minutes without the lid
Materials Needed (for a half loaf):
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid rise yeast
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (I opt to put less in, most recipes call for more)
3/4 cup cold water

What to Do:
Mix flour, yeast, salt and water.  Let sit in a bowl covered in plastic wrap for 12-18 hours, preferably in a warm place.  In Hong Kong this is usually not a problem no matter what time of year.  I put the bowl in a convenient little nook above the fridge, where it captures a bit of warm air.

I usually let mine sit for 24 hours because I am forgetful and have trouble calculating 18 hours (it happens).  The recipe is resilient and still works despite my absentmindedness.

The next day, or overnight, or in precisely 18 hours (whatever your style), heat your oven up to a heart-stopping 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  When it is at that temperature, stick your cast iron pot, with the lid on, into the oven for 30 minutes.  Don't freak out.

While the pot is cooking, take out your sticky, wet dough.  At this point it looks wrong.  It is all puckered.  You think you made a mistake.  But you haven't.  Just throw it down on a heavily floured surface, roll it around, pat it smooth.  Let it sit wrapped in plastic wrap while the pot heats.

After the pot has been cooking for 30 minutes, take the pot out (don't burn yourself), throw a little corn meal at the bottom of the pot or else use parchment paper to lower your loaf into the pot.  Do not put oil in the pot as it will just sizzle and smoke, due to the high temperature.  I dumped/threw my little dough ball in and forgot both the corn meal and the parchment paper.  But it was fine.  The bread did not stick to the bottom of the pot at all.  This is a very forgiving process.

Bake your half loaf for 20 to 25 minutes with the lid on.  Then take the lid off (Wowza! The big unveil!) and bake for another 15 minutes.
This time I did not bother to shape the bread and it turned out a little bit... butt-shaped.  But there are impressive air bubbles and cracklature nonetheless!
Then let it cool, hack off a slice or three, smother in butter, and devour.  If you have further questions, go here and here.

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