Tuesday, March 6, 2012

No-Knead Bread and Slow-Roasted Tomato Bruschetta

Slow-roasted tomato bruschetta, on homemade no-knead bread
It's challenge time again!

I'm participating in the Cook It! 2012 technique challenge that Caroline of Grow It Cook It Can It threw down in January. The concept is simple: Caroline resolved to try out some I've-always-wanted-to-do-that cooking techniques and decided to ask us to play along at home. She issues the monthly challenge (January was homemade pasta) and we can then try out the technique, using whatever method we like, incorporate it into a recipe and blog about it.

That's how my orrechiette Bolognese was born a few weeks ago.

The February challenge Caroline issued was making your own bread. Sweet! Two years ago I discovered the super-easy "bread in 5 minutes a day" technique popularized by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, but I decided to try a different method this time.

I gave Jim Lahey's no-knead bread a try.

Lahey operates the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York and developed this interesting no-knead technique. The whole thing really took off when he was featured in Mark Bittman's New York Times column back in 2006 (you can read all about it first-hand). The cool part about Lahey's technique is that there is just a whole lot of sitting around required, rather than upper-arm-workout kneading. And the bread is baked in a cast-iron casserole, giving it a perfectly round shape every time.

I was intrigued so I did some additional research; that is, I wanted some first-hand accounts of how difficult and/or successful this method can be. Turns out, people are wild about it.

So for my foray into no-knead bread, I relied on both Lahey's original recipe for a basic boule from Bittman's article, as well as the been-there-done-that tips and commentary provided by Mrs. Wheelbarrow (yes, she of Charcutepalooza fame).

So here it is, step by step, with pictures (this differs from my usual way of presenting recipes, but I think the photo steps will really help you).

Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread

3 cups of bread flour (plus more for dusting)
1/4 teaspoon dry yeast
1 5/8 cups water
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

Combine the flour, yeast, salt and water in a large bowl and mix well (it will get stiff pretty quickly, so you get a mini arm workout here). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit in a warmish room for 18 hours (I started mine at 5pm one day so it would be ready to go at lunchtime the next day).

When the dough is dotty with bubbles, it's ready. Spread a tea towel (NOT a terry towel) on the counter and sprinkle about 3 tablespoons of flour on it in a big circle. Using both hands, mash as much of the flour as possible deep into the towel (yeah, really grind it in there). You want it to be nice and floury because the dough is really sticky.

Using a rubber spatula, gently coax the blob of dough out of the bowl and onto the center of the flour circle on the tea towel. Sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold the dough over on itself 4-5 times. Quickly shape it into a ball, place it seam side down (although mine didn't really have a seam) and cover it with either the floured ends of the tea towel on which it is sitting (if yours is big enough) or with another lightly floured tea towel. Let the dough rest like this for another 2 hours.

About 30 minutes before the dough finishes rising, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Place a 6-8 quart cast-iron covered casserole in the oven while it heats. When the dough is ready, remove the pot from the oven. Slide your hand under the tea towel, as now you are going to attempt to flip the dough off the tea towel, seam side up, into the pot.

This is where it gets a little tricky and possibly ugly (although it doesn't matter, really). The dough will likely be fairly stuck to the towel and require a little scraping to free it. Don't worry if your dough looks lopsided or crappy once you get it into the pot -- it will still bake perfectly. Trust me, my first attempt looked like a pile of glop but still emerged as a perfectly round boule (the pot gives it its shape).

Cover the pot and return it to the oven. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and continue to bake for another 10-15 minutes or until it looks golden.

Remove the pot from the oven and carefully remove the bread (I used a spatula). Let it cool completely on a wire rack -- and be sure to enjoy the crackling sound as it cools!

Technique verdict? It really is super-easy. The whole floured tea towel thing is a bit tricky but even my bad attempts, in which I had to scrape extra dough off the towel and stuck it to the top of the dough ball, yielded a beautiful loaf of bread.

Taste verdict? Heavenly! Chewy inside, crusty outside -- total bakery quality. You really can't mess this up.

OK, so now you've made it through the bread, and it is delicious all by itself, but why stop there when you can load it up with some creamy ricotta cheese and roasted tomatoes?

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Of course, tomatoes taste their best when they are in season, in the summer, but when you slow roast them, even store-bought tomatoes in March can become spectacular. Roma tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, campari tomatoes -- any small tomato will work here. I use Molly Wizenberg's "recipe" (more like "guidance"?) when I roast them: halve the tomatoes, toss them in a bowl with some olive oil until coated, then place on a baking sheet. Sprinkle each tomato half with a little kosher salt and some ground coriander (to your taste) and bake them in a 200 degree oven for 4-6 hours -- check the consistency and when they look good to you, take them out. And that's it!

Now, slice up that beautiful boule you just made, toast some slices, slather on a little creamy ricotta and top it off with some slow-roasted tomatoes. Oooh la la! This bruschetta is the perfect complement to soup and makes a lovely light lunch when served with a salad,  but it's also fantastic as a savory breakfast.

You're going to look pretty darned impressive if you take on these two recipes that, frankly, simply involve a lot timer-setting and waiting around. But that can be our little secret.

So, will you try the bread? Or at least the tomatoes? Or do you have a preferred method or recipe for either? The Ninj wants to know.

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  1. You have me convinced! I have always been intimidated when it comes to baking bread--the few times I've attempting using yeast to make pizza crust, it was a huge disaster, so bread just seems completely undoable to me. But this seems easy enough. I pinned this as a reminder to myself! I might even give it a try this weekend...

    ...and the tomatoes are gorgeous!

  2. You can do it! As I wrote, the only tricky part is getting it off the tea towel but, even if it sticks and gets all messy, it doesn't matter. Good luck!

  3. I LOVE THIS BREAD!! Went through a phase where I made it a lot and don't know why I stopped. Thanks for the inspiration, oh wise kitchen ninja!!!

  4. Awesome, Robyn -- you get to enjoy it all over again!

  5. Quick question on this - I have a seasoned cast iron dutch oven, not a porcelain coated one. Anything I should modify? I am going to get this in the hopper tonight and am totally looking forward to trying it tomorrow! Thanks Ninj!

  6. Cathy: Lahey's original recipe says you can use cast iron, so go right ahead. You get to monitor it visually at the end (to achieve the perfect golden crust), so you shouldn't have to change a thing. Please let me know how it turns out for you.

  7. Looks perfect! I'm giving up on my sourdough and headed back to yeast. I had been doing the 5/min a day version too but had been curious about this method. Gorgeous!