Tuesday, March 17, 2009

almost no-knead olive rosemary bread

After Tracey brought home a loaf of the really great Calamata Olive Toscano bread (so soft and chewy and complex) from Borracchini's Bakery I decided that I'd bake a modification of the January & February 2008 Cook's Illustrated almost no-knead modification of the Sullivan Street Bakery no-knead bread.

The Cook's Illustrated article is informative, digging a bit into the chemistry of the no-knead recipe in an attempt to preserve its easiness and structure while improving the flavor. Briefly, the highly hydrated (85%) dough and long rest promotes extremely effective autolysis, which greatly reduces the amount of kneading required to align the proteins. It can even reduce it to zero because the proteins may have been snipped into such small bits by the enzymes in the wheat that there's no manual disentangling required. This is responsible for the great crumb. However, the tiny amount of yeast is not a satisfying flavor substitute for the complexity of a fermented starter. A small amount of acetic acid in the form of vinegar can substitute for that tangy fermentation byproduct, and a lager beer can provide yeasty complexity. The difficulty with such a wet dough is its delicacy, though, making it hard to handle without deflating and results inconsistent. A less wet and more forgiving dough can be used if a small amount of kneading (even 15 seconds!) is used to develop the structure.

As I didn't have any suitable beer on hand I had to purchase Budweiser at the grocery store, where Isaac and I ran into his substitute teacher for the day. I was grateful that she didn't offer me a Slim Jim or dip of Skoal when she saw the Bud. I felt a little better after getting it home and decanting into a Terminator Stout glass.

I suppose for my first attempt I should have stuck with the basic recipe, but since I had whey on hand from the recent farmer cheese making I figured I'd use that instead of water. And I had the olive and rosemary idea in my head, so I went in that direction too. The ingredients ended up being:
  • 15 ounces (3 cups) all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon rapid rise yeast
  • 7 fluid ounces whey
  • 3 fluid ounces Budweiser
  • 1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives
Dry ingredients and rosemary were whisked, liquids and olives at room temperature were added, and mixed into a rough ball. This ended up being pretty wet, probably because of the moist olives and I think I may have had a touch too much liquid.

It rose well overnight (oven light, door ajar) but was very fragile, rippling provocatively when I agitated the bowl. If I'd been thinking I would have skipped the kneading entirely, but instead I gave it a try.

It sighed audibly and had lost much of its volume by the time I was done abusing it. It was much too sticky and soft to retain much form so the "shaping" of the "loaf" was a rather abstract exercise. It rose for another two hours, regaining much of its volume but remained flat.

Slicing (gashing) the top made it very clear that I need to sharpen my knives.

I preheated the dutch oven for 30 minutes at 500 degrees, dropped in the dough, lowered to 425, and baked for 30. Smelled fantastic within 20 minutes and looked great at 30 when I removed the lid.

It was done in another 20, at 208 degrees internally and sounding nice and hollow when knocked. It was a little squatter than I would have liked but still exceeded my expectations.

As for the most important thing: Wow! Tremendous success! Aside from wishing that it were taller I couldn't be much more pleased. Texture is excellent and flavors are great. It's by far the best bread I've baked. The boys loved it, even preferring it to the Borracchini's bread.

I think that the Borracchini loaf has considerably more complexity its flavors, but I would happily eat this bread any time.

Next time I will ensure that the dough is drier so I can administer a proper kneading and shaping. I'll bet that will produce a rounder loaf, though I'm not sure how the texture could be improved. This is really nice: Soft, stretchy, great glutinous bubbles and sheets, and crackly but not rock-hard crust.

2009-12-23 update: Best results to date using roughly this method are written up here.

No comments: