Have you been baking bread according to the hot “new” no-knead minimalist technique developed by Jim Lahey and publicized by Marc Bittman in his NYT column? If you are one of the six people on the planet who haven’t heard about this, settle in for a long while and read about it here: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=95345
Google it and you can spend the rest of the week finding out more, I’m sure, because every food blogger in the universe has discussed it. This method works, but in a roundabout way it led me to a book I like better called No Need to Knead, by Suzanne Dunaway. My friendly library had a copy and I’ve kept it checked out for weeks. My favorite recipe so far is her Pane Rustico. Below is my adapted (and even lazier) way of feeding my family great bread with little effort.
This makes two loaves of “artisinal-style” (awful expression) bread – the kind with an open crumb and very crisp crust. Don’t slice into it until it is completely cool. Store the unused portion of the loaf cut-side down on a cutting board and cover it loosely with a clean kitchen towel. It will be fine for a day or two like that. If the crust starts to soften, which it surely will if you are foolish enough to store it in plastic, pass the crusty parts of the bread under the faucet for a quick dousing and put the loaf into a preheated 400 degree oven for 10 minutes – hey, presto – revitalized bread. Even if the bread begins to get a little stale after two or three days, it makes fabulous toast or grilled sandwiches.
Lori’s Version of Suzanne Dunaway’s No Need to Knead Pane Rustico
2 or 3 loaves
In a four-cup measure or a medium bowl, place 1 t. dry yeast and 1 c. lukewarm water. In a 1 c. dry measure, spoon in about ¼ c. rye flour and fill the cup the rest of the way with bread flour. Whisk into the water mixture until fairly smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 6 hours or overnight, until bubbly.
In a large bowl, mix 2 c. lukewarm water with the biga. If you have “old dough” saved (see below), add it now and stir to loosen it a bit. Add 2 generous t. kosher salt (or 2 t. table salt), 4 c. bread flour, and 1 ½ c. whole wheat flour (or use all bread flour). Stir energetically until the dough is a shaggy mixture and the flour is incorporated. If you like, remove about ¼ c. of the dough and put it into a covered jar and thence into the fridge. This “old dough” will improve the flavor of your next batch of bread. Cover the big bowl of dough tightly with plastic wrap. Now you have two choices: bake today or bake tomorrow (or even the next day).
To bake today:
Let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 30-40 minutes. Oil one hand with a little olive or vegetable oil and reach into the bowl to fold the dough over onto itself 3 or 4 times, working from the outside of the dough toward the center. Cover and let it rise again for 30-40 minutes. Fold and let rise a third time in the same way. Shape as desired, let rise, and bake.
To bake tomorrow (or even the next day):
Put the covered bowl into the fridge overnight. Remove from the fridge 3 hours or so before you want to bake. (Keep in mind that the bread is best served at room temperature, so allow cooling time in your calculations.) Let the dough stand at room temperature for about 2 hours. Proceed with shaping, final rise, and bake.
To shape and finish:
This dough is highly adaptable to different kinds of loaves. I have divided it into three parts and “snaked” out baguette shapes (use a little flour to prevent sticking) to be placed into my French bread pans, I have baked it in two regular loaf pans, and I have baked it as round boules. The important thing to remember is that you DO NOT WANT TO PUNCH IT DOWN! On the contrary, deflate the dough as little as possible. Shape as desired. (“Shape” is a misnomer here – except for baguettes I don’t shape at all – I just sort of plop the dough directly from the bowl into the pan or onto the baking sheet, using a bench scraper or a knife to cut off about half for the first loaf and then continue plopping the remaining dough for the second.) Place (or plop) in pans or on a baking sheet, cover with a clean towel and let rise for about 30 minutes while you preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Place the pans in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 450 degrees. Baking time will vary between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on the loaf shape. If you care about such things, check the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer and pull them when they hit 210 degrees. Cool completely on a rack, but I know you’re gonna tear into the first one while it’s warm.
I realize the directions sound involved, but each step only takes a couple of minutes and once you’ve done it a time or two you’ll be on auto-pilot. I’m forever saying as we run out the door somewhere, “Hang on a sec and just let me stir up some biga,” which really is all the time it takes and makes me sound like a very with-it baker. (By the way, it is pronounced “bee-guh” – you won’t sound with-it if you can’t pronounce it properly.) Try it once – I bet you’ll be so impressed with yourself.