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Crusty bread

Recipe-phile: Autumn's arrival creates 'knead' for crusty bread

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entertainment Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

The leaves are falling so when I went to the store the other day I picked up two extra, heavy parcels: a sack of bread flour and a sack of rye.

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I scuttle between a few different favorite bread recipes. Years ago I immersed myself in sourdough, an experiment that began with a single clump of wild grapes and a cup of flour and birthed a monster (and some great bread).

The book I followed - an excellent one: Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery - put me on a strict program of sourdough feeding. Three times a day I dumped the excess starter and added fresh flour and water to the bubbling, fermenting mass. The starter rolled lazily in its container and sticky strands snapped away from the spoon. I swore it seemed to burp after the feedings.

At the end of the summer I grew increasingly nauseated by the growing pile of excess flesh-colored starter that I was slopping behind the birch tree, but I was making some wonderful bread. Chewy, pockmarked with large holes and with a crackling rust-brown crust, it was unquestionably good bread.

Last winter I swore allegiance to a recipe that has been very popular in the blogosphere: Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread. No doubt about it, this recipe makes fantastic bread. It requires a small amount of yeast, a very long rise (12 to 18 hours) and then you bake it in a heavy enameled steel or cast-iron dutch oven, with the cover on. If you haven't tried it yet, do. For a miniscule amount of actual working time, the results are impressive: the bread has more flavor than most five-dollar loaves, and it looks urban in that upscale "rustica" way.

These recipes taught me that time is flavor, but I also want a bread recipe that I can start and finish on the same day. I think that the best bread in town is Jorg's buttermilk rye at the Schwarzwald on Main. I worked in his kitchen years ago and despite my curiosity never did come away with the recipe. That's no accident; he guards it. As he should, for his is proper German rye: sturdy but still tender, it has a fine crumb and a thin, caramelized dark crust and it feels as cool and moist on day four as it does on day one. That moistness is the beauty of rye.

It's a little known fact that Jorg never slices his bread on the first day (when it tends to tear in the slicer) but instead waits until the second day to serve it. Of course when I worked there I remember cutting into a warm loaf, because I couldn't resist it, and the crust shattered and cracked and it was dampish on the inside, soft and heavenly.

I think we should start a campaign for Jorg to release his recipe (remember, it's was his mother's, but still, for the good of the town). But in the meantime, I've been working on a rye bread. It gets pretty close. It has that deep dark crust that tastes like roasted barley and honey and a good cup of coffee all at once.

The buttermilk rye project

1 ½ cups buttermilk

1 cup boiling water

1 1/2 teaspoons SAF instant yeast

3 tablespoons molasses

2 tablespoons Crisco, melted and cooled

1 cup whole wheat bread flour

2 cups medium rye flour

1 3/4 to 2 cups bread flour

½ cup wheat germ

1 tablespoon salt

Cornmeal for dusting (can substitute wheat germ)

In a mixing bowl, combine buttermilk and water, molasses and yeast. Stir to combine and leave until the yeast is foamy, about 10 minutes.

Mix with a whisk attachment and add the Crisco, 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1 cup white flour, whipping for about 3 minutes to develop gluten. Switch to a dough hook (or a wooden spoon) and gradually add the two cups rye flour and 1 3/4 cups white flour, adding another 1/4 cup bread flour if needed to make a stiff dough that begins to clean the bowl. Mix for a full 8 minutes.

(If you're mixing by hand, knead it for about 10 minutes, using a dough scraper to assist you.)

The dough will be slightly tacky to the touch but will clean the bowl. Turn off the mixer and let it rest for 10 minutes under a towel.

Turn the dough out of the bowl, add the salt and knead a few minutes to incorporate. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a cool place until doubled in size.

When doubled, punch down and let rise again. Both risings should take 8 hours in total (at about 65 degrees), so if you need to slow it down, let one rising take place in the refrigerator. The longer the dough takes to rise, the better it will taste, so an overnight refrigerated rise is fine, though keep in mind that when you remove the dough from the refrigerator it will take awhile to warm up.

After the dough has risen the second time, shape into a ball and place on a cornmeal-dusted baking sheet.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. When the dough has risen again (about 2 hours), bake for 30 minutes. Turn the oven off and bake for 15 minutes longer. (Don't open the door.) The crust will be dark and caramelized. Cool completely before slicing thinly.

Yield: One two-pound loaf

Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread

Published Nov. 8, 2006

The New York Times

Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours' rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting

¼ teaspoon instant yeast (SAF)

1¼ teaspoons salt

Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed

In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 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 or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal.

Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

At least a half-hour 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 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 O.K.

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

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

Note: There's no need to grease the baking dish. The bread will not stick.

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