Saturday, May 9, 2009

almost no-knead beer bread

I wanted to attempt something like the Cook's Illustrated almost no-knead bread again, but improve on the last one by getting a higher rise. I'm also intrigued by the contribution of beer so wanted to use that as the liquid. And I wanted to solve the overdone bottom crust problem that I've been having.

  • 3 cups + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons wheat gluten
  • 1.5 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 ounce rapid rise yeast
  • 12 ounces Budweiser
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
The idea behind beer and vinegar is to provide some of the flavors that normally develop as a result of the yeast starter working for quite a while. My thinking on the sugar was that this additional food source might get the yeast working overtime. I don't actually know that that's a sound notion.

I whisked the dry then stirred in the wet ingredients. This made a fairly wet but not gloppy dough. Let it rise for a couple of hours then kneaded for a minute. It was wet and sticky, definitely elastic, and held together pretty well on a wet cutting board. Covered and let rise overnight.

After eight hours, kneaded for a few more minutes. It had tripled in size and was sticky enough that it kept leaving bits behind on a floured, well-used cutting board. I need a slipperier kneading surface. Formed a loaf and placed on parchment paper in a small skillet. Let rise for a couple more hours.

My new digital camera should arrive next week. This one is lying on its back with its legs twitching.

This seemed to be the best rise I've ever had. I thought the loaf was likely to be tall and majestic. I slashed a shallow X and short shallow slashes in the quadrants, then dropped in the dutch oven and covered. It certainly had greater volume than other loaves. Unfortunately it was also soft enough that it spread and flattened once it lost the support of the skillet.

I baked at 450 this time instead of 500, 20 minutes covered and 20 uncovered. I also splashed a little water into the dutch oven before adding the loaf and covering. After 20 minutes the color was that of pale straw and it looked good. At 40 it came out and sounded perfectly done when knocked.

Good: Crust consistency was vastly improved. In fact, without the hint of the loaf shape the top and bottom are indistinguishable. Crumb was highly regular, soft and chewy, with nice glutinous bubbles and stretchiness. Structurally, awfully nice, just like last time. It's a pleasure to chew.

Bad: I can't identify a flavor contribution by the beer at all. In that respect it seems like a failure. That's kind of interesting, because I've made other breads with less Budweiser in which I was sure I could pick out the beer's malty sweetness. Hmm. I don't really get any tang from the vinegar either.

So-so: The somewhat stiffer and better-risen dough did produce a larger and slightly taller loaf than last time, but it was still not what I was hoping for. And, more importantly, the flavor is unexciting. It's fine, and with some butter it's quite good, but on its own it just doesn't get me too worked up. I was expecting a bit more.

Next time I'm going to try baking in a much smaller oval, covered casserole dish to see how that changes the shape. I don't think it will do anything good for the crust, though. Maybe it could be removed halfway through?

Update: I made grilled sandwiches using this bread. It's fantastic for that. The crust doesn't become uncomfortably hard or jagged, even thin slices remain sturdily intact, and the absence of large air pockets keeps everything inside.

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