Monday, April 27, 2009

Almost no-knead: Total Fail

UPDATE: After making the regular white bread version of this recipe, I feel I was a little harsh on the density of the bread... that just appears to be the way the bread is supposed to be. Not what I was expecting, but I can't really blame the recipe for my expectations.

UPDATE 2: Also, my oven is running hot, so that probably explains the burning and quick cooking...  do yourself a favor, and get a $10 oven thermometer before you do any serious baking (especially at high temperatures). 

So my first attempt at baking didn't come off so well. As I mentioned last week, I have been meaning to learn how to make bread for ages. I love me some bread... love the taste, love the smell of it baking... I love everything about it. (Except for rye bread, that is, but that's because of the demon seed caraway)

However, bread isn't an easy thing to make. Measurements are hard to make exactly since things like humidity change the amount of flour that fits in a cup(we have a kitchen scale which handles this)... while temperature can greatly effect how a bread rises... and commercial bakeries have steam injection ovens that your average home chef doesn't. Not to mention that kneading is hard work and hard to get right, while being essential to the quality of the finished product. Hence no-knead bread, which has two characteristics that help mitigate some of the issues of a home bread baker. By using a long slow rise with very little yeast, it creates almost a "chemical kneading" as all the gluten molecules get lined up in the wet dough over time. In addition, when you are ready to bake it, you put the dough in an already preheated dutch oven with a lid... this keeps the moisture of the dough in as it bakes, mimicking steam injection, and aiding in the formation of a crisp crust.

I decided to try Cook's Illustrated's version ($)... specifically their olives, rosemary, and Parmesan variant because... well, it sounded tasty.

Everything went off without a hitch until the second, brief rise, after the "almost no-kneading" and shaping. It was supposed to double in size, but after even 3 hours (recipe called for 2) it was maybe 50% bigger at best... and still seemed pretty springy to the touch (Cook's said wasn't supposed to spring back much). But what do you do at that point, but go ahead and put it in the oven? I guess I could have given it some more time, but I didn't... and I still don't really know what happened... I gave it 12 hours for the initial slow rise, which should have been plenty. Did I buy ineffective yeast?

The dutch oven aspect worked well... a little too well in fact:
It browned very well, and the crust was fantastic. However, my beautiful Le Crueset pan is a bit less beautiful because it has all these black marks on it from the high temp (500 degrees)... there must have been some residue or it or something, but the marks are impossible to get off. Kind of depressing... oh, I should also mention that the plastic knobs on the Le Crueset pots are NOT safe up to 500 degrees... you have to replace them with metal ones.  They're a little odd looking at first, but they've grown on me.  Of course they get a LOT hotter than the plastic ones, so keep your pot holders handy.  I digress...

In addition to the marks on my pot, about 10 minutes after I took the lid off to finish the bread, I could already smell burning:

It's supposed to take 20-30 minutes to finish the bread, but not in my oven apparently. Is our temperature way off? Was my pan too close to the heat? We used to have an oven thermometer that indicated our oven was pretty spot on, but I think it broke... maybe we need a new one... regardless, I'll definitely going to move the oven rack up one notch for my next attempt and pay better attention.

A burnt bottom wouldn't have been the end of the world, but the lack of a second rise or perhaps the nature of the bread itself was just too dense to really enjoy:

It was quite cheesy, and fairly tasty... but way too dense for me... it sadly went into the trash. I can't really tell how much of that was the recipe's intent or not, but it wasn't what I was expecting at all... I'm just going to try the basic white bread next week and see how the texture comes out.

If I can't get it better than this, then I guess I need to learn to knead.