Friday, August 12, 2011

E-Z Bake

Did you have one of those Easy-Bake Ovens when you were a kid? I did (of course) and I still remember those minuscule round baking “pans” and those miniature boxes of cake mix. Fortunately my baking skills have improved immeasurably since then, but the silly thing definitely helped me develop my baking chops.

(btw, the first picture of that little kid in this link looks exactly like I did back then – bad bangs and all!)

Flash forward a few hundred years, and my Easy-Bake has been replaced by double convection ovens. And, while I would never let a box of cake mix grace my kitchen, I’m not adverse to “easy-bake” recipes. So when my good friend and cooking companion SW called recently about getting together to make bread and homemade mozzarella, I was on it like a duck on a junebug (we say that kind of weird stuff down here in the South).

We’ll talk about the cheese in another post; for now I want to tell you about the bread. It’s not a new recipe – it came out a few years ago and generated a lot of buzz at the time. When SW told me that’s what we were making, my heart sank. No-Knead Bread? Food snob that I am, I eschewed it when it debuted (even though I clipped the recipe) and never deigned to make it. I explained that to my friend, who looked at me like I had lost my mind.

“You don’t get it,” he said. “It’s not about the recipe. It’s about the baking method.”

Now, normally I would stick to my guns, but I totally trust SW when it comes to all things culinary. (Don’t tell him I said that). He knows his way around a kitchen like nobody’s business and I know enough to listen when he has something to say. As usual, he was right.

In the spirit of sticking to something E-Z, I am giving you the no-knead recipe. In addition to no-knead, it’s a no-brainer and it’s quite good. But the real gift is the baking method, which you can use for any yeast bread you can think of. It produces a lovely round of bread that will stand up to anything you can buy in your local bakery or grocery store. Trust me!

NO-KNEAD BREAD  (from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC)

3 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour, plus more for work surface
1/4 teaspoon dry active yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt (I used kosher)
Cornmeal, for dusting

In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast and salt.  Add 1 5/8 cups of lukewarm water and stir until blended.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rest at least 12 hours or preferably 18 at warm room temperature, about 70-degrees.

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.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball.  Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with cornmeal and put dough seam-side down on towel.  Dust with a little more cornmeal then cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours.  When it is ready, dough will be more than doubled in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

At least 30 minutes 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 the 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 okay.  Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.  Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes.  Remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned.  Cool on a rack.

Yield:  1 (1 1/4-lb.) loaf

*  Don't be like me.  Read the recipe before you start this process.  That's because you need to plan ahead as this needs AT LEAST 12 hours of standing time.  Duh!

*  Yes, I realize that the amount of water called for is 1- and 5/8 cups.  This is not a typo.  Just do it.

*  SW, I bow down to you in gratitude.  Kitchen Super-Hero, oh yes you are!

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