Saturday, September 6, 2008

No Knead Dutch Oven Bread

The aesthetic qualities of Le Creuset lead many to believe that owning a Dutch oven is somehow essential for any kitchen. I bought mine from Lodge, because they are supposed to be more durable, even if they are just recently doing the whole enameled thing. Until baking this bread, I had only ever used it to make some curry, a task that could easily have been reproduced in a normal pot of any kind.

Upon learning, however, that I could make perfect, crusty bread all by myself without even having to bust out the dough hook on my Kitchenaid mixer, I was pretty glad to own my Dutch oven. Its heaviness, ability to seal tightly, and distribute heat evenly are all apparently perfect conditions for making this kind of bread. I used a recipe from Mother Earth News, which you can find here, sans my additions.

No Knead, Dutch Oven Bread

1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
3 cups flour. I used an equally portioned mixture of oat, wheat, and all purpose white flours.
1 1/2 tsp salt
4-5 Tbs. chopped fresh herbs. I used basil, thyme, and rosemary from my garden.

1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Add the flour and salt, stirring until blended. The dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at least 8 hours, preferably 12 to 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
2. The 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 it rest for about 15 minutes.
3. Add the herbs to the dough. Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or to your fingers, gently shape it into a ball. Generously coat a clean dish towel with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal. Put the seam side of the dough down on the towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another towel and let rise for about 1 to 2 hours. When it’s ready, the dough will have doubled in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
4. At least 20 minutes before the dough is ready, heat oven to 475 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in the oven as it heats. When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven and lift off the lid. Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. The dough will lose its shape a bit in the process, but that’s OK. Give the pan a firm shake or two to help distribute the dough evenly, but don’t worry if it’s not perfect; it will straighten out as it bakes.
5. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake another 15 to 20 minutes, until the loaf is beautifully browned. Remove the bread from the Dutch oven and let it cool on a rack for at least 1 hour before slicing.

A few modifications I made:
My oven doesn't heat at the right temperature, so I just had to keep an eye on the bread to prevent burning. After I took it out, I poured a bit of water into the pan and put the lid back on to let it steam. This made the outside super crusty.

You have no idea how good this bread is. Make sure to follow the directions as best as you can. A second time, I made it and decided to add some sugar to activate the yeast. Bad idea--it rose high but didn't have the bubbles that the first one had that made it soft inside.

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