I have a confession to make. And in light of the actual topic of this post, it’s going to be a bit weird. Bear with me.
You know how you have that blog/tumblr rabbithole you go down when you are mindlessly web surfing? For some it’s mommy blogs even though you don’t have kids, others maybe interior design even though you rent your apartment and have no intention of making it look any better, or maybe you just get stuck in an endless buzzfeed.com loop of cat gifs (we’ve all been there).
So for me, one of my web vortexes is paleo cooking blogs.
Now, this isn’t completely baseless. I am very active, and have gone through periods of intense training for various endurance events. Paleo and training go hand-in-hand in many fitness
cults circles (looking at you here). And many of the paleo bloggers are legit cooks and good writers.
I actually find the paleo lifestyle fascinating, and some days I’m like hey, I haven’t eaten any grains today, go me! (not that no grains = victory, but of note, perhaps to balance out other cookie-heavy days). In general, I feel like people should eat how they want to eat. Or as Michael Ruhlman put it so succinctly and brilliantly earlier this year: Cook your own food. Eat what you want. (Think for yourself). Words to live by, if I ever heard any.
But here’s the thing — I think that bread is one of the greatest things that we as human society have ever created.
I could eat toast at every meal. Before I eat a piece of freshly baked bread, I hold it up to my nose and inhale deeply, to smell that satisfying yeasty bread smell. My last meal would be grilled cheese, slices of salted buttered bread, and cinnamon-sugar toast for dessert. Bread is the generic placeholder in idioms about our most basic needs as well as our greatest achievements.
So with that introduction, this post is the first in a series about one of my favorite things: bread. More specifically, the no knead bread method. I’m calling it my no knead bread journal.
The no knead bread recipe I use comes from Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery, after it was famously published by Mark Bittman in the New York Times in 2006. Its premise is a minimalist technique that lets time do the work, instead of lots of yeast and kneading. Which essentially means: you dump the ingredients in a bowl, let them hang out for a day or so, take the dough out and shape it, let it hang out for a few more hours, preheat a pot in the oven, dump the dough into the hot pot, and bake it. And that’s it. It is both better and easier than most other bread recipes. Then you win.
I started with the classic recipe, linked to above. But then as many cooks do, I began to tinker. And now I actually keep a log of the variations I try, and how they end up. It’s just a google doc with the classic recipe at the top, and then my experiments in a running log below.
My first round of experimenting aimed for something a bit more hearty, with whole wheat flour, maybe some millet or seeds. More of a weekday bread. But using 100% whole wheat flour turns out to produce a very very dense loaf. I went down the no knead google rabbithole for a while, and learned that adding vital wheat gluten helps add some of the airiness back into whole wheat breads, so I gave that a try, and the recipe is below. The resulting loaf was crisp and crackly on the outside, tender and moist on the inside.
Here’s to bread.
(Mostly) Whole Wheat Sunflower Flax Bran Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey and Mark Bittman
Note: I find the original no knead recipe to be generally in need of salt, so I add a bit more than it calls for in my variations.
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cups vital wheat gluten
1/2 cups toasted sunflower seeds
1/4 cups wheat bran
1/4 cups ground flax seeds
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 cups water
More wheat bran for dusting
In a large bowl combine all dry ingredients (everything except the water) and whisk until thoroughly combined. Add 1 3/4 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest for about 18 hours +/- at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
The 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.
Gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with wheat bran; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more bran. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, the 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 the oven to 450 degrees. Put a loaf pan with an improvised cover (I used a second loaf pan) in the oven as it heats. Your baking loaf pan should be cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic.
When dough is ready, carefully remove the loaf pans from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into the pan, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is ok. 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 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.