Monday, August 1, 2011

Rustic No-knead Bread (Original and Lemon Cherry Variation)

You know that question- "If you were stranded on a deserted island, what's the one food you'd want to have with you?"?  Well, for me that question is a simple one, no thinking involved...Bread.  In any shape, size, or form.  It's part of my earliest memories of standing on a chair next to my grandmother with a little ball of bread dough in my hands, watching her knead and trying to copy her.  I can remember her pulling fresh loaves out of the oven and not being able to wait until they were cool enough to eat.  I'd tear the end off the bread (always the end, the crustier, the better) and smearing some butter on it and being in heaven.  30 years after making those memories, the smell of freshly baked bread still puts me in food nirvana.  



I'm a pretty experienced bread maker, so I try to make my own when I can.  And I even make a pretty good approximation of my grandmother's bread, if I do say so myself.  I like to have a slice with dinner (or lunch...french toast anyone?...), but I have less time and less patience to deal with fussy recipes as I and my kids get older.  Somehow I stumbled upon a recipe for a bread that requires as little work as humanly possible.  The original is from the Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC, but a recipe was published in the New York Times a few years back and spread across the internet like wildfire.   So I guess I'm a bit late to the party, but better late than never.  This bread is so good and so easy, I don't think I'll ever make an everyday bread with any other recipe.  In fact, my husband explicitly asked me not to (that's always a sign of a
winner).

If you're not an experienced bread maker, this is the recipe for you.  It really can't get any easier. 


Rustic No-knead Bread
This recipe will make one large loaf. 
Click here for the printable recipe.

 To bake this bread, you will need a pot that can withstand very high oven temperatures.  The only way to get a crisp, crackly crust is to have a lot of steam, which is why the dough is so wet.  If you had a professional bakery oven, it would be able to burst steam over the bread, but then again, you probably wouldn't be reading this blog if you had a professional bakery oven.  So instead, the way to get the bread good and steamy is to get the oven temp nice and high (475 degrees), get a pot with a lid nice and hot in the oven while you preheat it, dump the dough in, cover it with the lid, and bake.  A heavy porcelain-coated cast iron dutch oven works best (I have a Le Creuset that I use), but a regular pot will work if it and its lid are oven proof.  I even put my pizza stone under the pot to make sure it stays good and hot in the oven.  I like to have really fresh bread, so I'll use half the dough to make a smaller loaf one night, refrigerate the rest and then make another small loaf later in the week.

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
2 1/2 tsp salt
3 1/4 cups flour

In a large bowl, stir together the water, salt and yeast.  Stir in the flour.  Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap.  Leave the bowl to sit on the counter for at least two hours.  It will be bubbly and still very wet and sticky.  At this point, the dough can be baked or you can refrigerate it and use it later that evening or later that week if you wish. 

When you're ready to bake the bread, take it out of the refrigerator and dump it out on a flour-dusted piece of parchment paper to come to room temperature while the oven preheats.  Turn the oven on to preheat to as hot as your oven gets (at least 450 degrees)  Place the pot with it's lid on into the oven to heat along with the oven.

After 30-45 minutes, remove the pot from the oven, place the dough on its parchment into the pot and carefully replace the lid.  Bake the bread for 30 minutes and then very carefully remove it from the oven (lots of potholders for this recipe).  Lift the bread out of the pot with a spatula and let it cool on a rack completely (if you can resist eating it right away).

Lemon Cherry Variation
Anyone who's been to the Thursday night farmer's market in Oak Harbor, WA has seen the fantastic breads from the BreadFarm Bakery.  The bakery is a small one based in Edison and they sell at farmer's markets and in their own store and smaller ones around the Skagit Valley.  Go there if you get a chance, you won't regret it.  My absolute favorite bread is the sour cherry sourdough bread that they only sell in the summer.  I've been trying like crazy to recreate this fabulous bread since moving away and have come close with this recipe.  If you make my version and have had the BreadFarm's version, please let me know where I can improve.

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1/4 cup lemon juice
zest of 2 lemons
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp salt
3 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cups dried tart cherries

Mix the yeast, salt, lemon zest, lemon juice and water in a large bowl.  Stir in the cherries and then the flour.  Cover and let sit on the counter for two hours.  This dough must be refrigerated in order to really develop the flavors.  If you try to bake it right away, you won't get any lemon flavor at all.  I let my dough rest in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days.  From this point you can follow the directions from above for the baking of the bread.

My favorite way to eat this bread is with a nice slather of softened goat cheese.

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