Our first foray into bread making produced mixed results: a beautiful and tasty -- but slightly tough -- loaf of Classic White Bread.
We believed -- and many of you agreed -- that we had possibly used too much flour, had likely under-kneaded our dough, and that our crumb was too tight (which, by the way, may be our new go-to insult. "Oh, you don't like the shirt I'm wearing? Well, your crumb is too tight!").
Anyway, many of you wrote to suggest that we try No-Knead Bread. We're huge Mark Bittman fans and had read his recipe when it was originally published. We've always meant to try it, and will, someday, but for our second go-round with bread-making we turned to Michael Ruhlman, author of Ratio: The Secret Codes by the Craft of Everyday Cooking.
We've mentioned Ratio several times before. We love this book for its excellent overview of basic ratios (Pasta Dough = 3 parts flour : 2 parts egg; Pie Dough = 3 parts flour : 2 parts fat : 1 part water) and how to apply them in the kitchen. The ratios, though somewhat strict, free the cook to improvise and add the ingredients and flavors he wants.
Reading the book, we were intrigued by Ruhlman's passionate and persistent praise for using a scale in the kitchen to make your cooking easier, especially when it comes to doughs.
Always looking for an excuse to buy kitchen equipment, we asked Zach's family for a kitchen scale for Christmas. They gave us the Oxo Good Grips Food Scale with Pull-Out Display, which comes recommended by America's Test Kitchen.
In the case of bread making, a scale is excellent because the bowl of a stand mixer can be placed directly on the scale, the correct weight of flour added, then you just zero the scale, add the appropriate amounts of water, salt and yeast, transfer the bowl to the mixer and start mixing. If you have a stand mixer, it takes care of all of the kneading. So only one bowl is dirty by the time the bread goes in the oven. Compared to the scene in our kitchen after our first bread making experience (is there such a thing as a flourbath?), our counters were absolutely tidy while making this bread.
As with many of the recipes in Ratio, a basic bread dough is presented and then many variations are given. The dough can be formed into a boule, a baguette or a loaf. Want flavored bread? There are a dozen suggestions, from chocolate-cherry to rosemary and roasted garlic.
We opted to make a boule, or round loaf, using the Dutch oven method, a technique that Ruhlman borrows from no-knead bread.
We were over the moon about the finished product! It was a delicious loaf of bread with a wonderful crust and an airy center. We slathered fresh slices with butter. We made sandwiches. Just last night, we toasted slices to eat with Baked Eggs in Tomato-Parmesan Sauce.
We did, however, make one error in this recipe. We forgot to slice an "X" into the top of the loaf prior to baking. We're not sure if it would have made much of a difference in the taste, but it sure would have made for a prettier loaf.
Next time. And there will be a next time.
In the meantime, pick up a copy of Ratio!
BASIC BREAD DOUGH
From Ratio by Michael Ruhlman
The following recipe is what's referred to in bakeshops as a basic lean dough, meaning there's no fat in it. It's pure bread and it's satisfying and delicious, especially sprinkled with salt and drizzled with olive oil. It can be shaped into a baguette or a boule or stretched into the shape called ciabatta. If shaping it into a boule, I highly recommend cooking it in a Dutch oven.
20 ounces bread flour (about 4 cups)
12 ounces water
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon active or instant yeast
Set your mixing bowl on a scale (if using), zero the scale, and pour the flour in. Zero the scale again and add the water. Add the salt. Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water to allow it to dissolve. Fit the bowl into the mixer and, using the paddle attachment, mix on medium speed until the dough has come together. Replace the paddle with a dough hook. (The whole procedure can be done with a dough hook, but the paddle brings the ingredients together rapidly. This dough can be kneaded by hand as well.) Continue mixing until your dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. To test your dough, pull off a chunk and stretch it into a square. If it's elastic enough to allow you to achieve a translucent sheet of dough, it's ready. If it tears before you can do this, continue mixing, either in the mixer or by hand, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Remove the mixing bowl from the machine, cover it with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise to about twice its size. Push a finger into the dough. The dough should give some resistance, but not spring back. If it springs back, let it rest longer. If you let your dough rise for too long, it will feel flabby and loose when you press a finger into it and will be less eager to rise when you bake it.
If baking it the same day, preheat your oven to 450°F (preferably 45 minutes before baking). If you intend to use steam, put a cast-iron pan in the oven and add 1 cup water when ready to bake.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it to expel excess gas and redistribute the yeast. Cover with a dish towel and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Shape the dough into a boule by pushing the dough back and forth on the counter in a circular motion until you have a round smooth ball; or shape it into a ciabatta by pulling it lengthwise so that it's about a foot long and an inch thick. For a baguette, stretch the dough into a rectangle roughly 12 by 6 inches; fold the top edge of the dough over on itself and pound the heel of your hand to pinch this edge down; fold it again, pounding the heel of your palm down to seal it, and continue until it is a roll; then roll by hand and stretch the baguette out as you do so to tighten its interior structure. Cover the dough with a dish towel and allow to rise, or proof, for about an hour. Or cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to a day; allow the bread to rise at room temperature for at least 11⁄2 hours before baking. When ready to bake a boule, slice an X or a pound symbol into the top of the dough to help it to expand; for ciabatta, stipple the dough with your fingers and, if you wish, coat with olive oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt. For a baguette, make long diagonal scores. Bake for 10 minutes at 450°F, then reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and continue baking until done, 45 to 50 minutes for a boule or baguette, 30 minutes for ciabatta.
Yield: 1 standard loaf
Dutch Oven Method: Instead of baking your bread on a sheet tray or a baking stone, bake it in an enamel cast-iron Dutch oven, lid on for the first 30 minutes, lid off for the remainder of the cooking time. (Marlene, the lead tester for this book, likes to add 1 tablespoon of honey and 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the basic bread dough ingredients.