Sunday, December 31, 2006

No-knead bread, step by step

Continuing the saga of the No-Knead Bread, which I first read about in the New York Times a couple of months ago, and which subsequently has been the obsession of bloggers worldwide, I present my most recent loaf:

(Edit: I have since started mixing the dough with a silicone spatula and found that works just as well. Hand-mixing is fun, but this is less messy! I've also found that a round, 2-quart pot with a domed lid makes the nicest loaf, but anything larger will work just fine. For pictures of pots and other loaves, click here. )

3 cups white bread flour, a scant 2 teaspoons salt, a heaping 1/4 teaspoon yeastMix the dry ingredients together. Mix the yeast in first, then the salt, to avoid accidentally killing the yeast.
Remember to take your rings off, if you haven't done so already.Add 1 1/2 cups water.
Mix again.This is why you want to take your rings off. The dough will be shaggy-looking and fairly sticky but cohesive.
Cover the bowl with cling wrap. Go ahead and buy the good kind. This generic stuff ain't worth spit. I ended up having to find something elastic to go round it. The little thermometer from REI is handy for gauging oven temp. When the oven's off, that is.The dough rises for 15 to 20 hours, or more. The recipe says 70 degrees, so I stick the bowl in my gas oven with the door cracked. My house is usually cold. I think it would probably work OK at 60 for the rise, too.
After about 20 hours, the dough will have risen significantly in the bowl and have small bubbles in it.If you tip the bowl, the glutinous nature of the dough becomes more apparent. Long strands of gluten with lots of air in between.
Pull the dough onto a lightly floured surface – I use parchment paper – and with a dusting of flour on your hands just pat it into a round.In the past I've done the second rise on the parchment paper, flat, with a bowl over it, but this time I'm going to proof it in the bowl again, to see how that affects the height of the loaf. Back into the oven it goes, at a slightly warmer temp, around 80, achieved by not cracking the door. It stays there for an hour and a half, until it's time to heat the oven and pot to 450 degrees F.
I have a variety of vessels I can cook this bread in. Of course none is exactly what I want. The 5.5-quart dutch oven is too big, the terrine too small, and I'm not really sure I should be putting the copper pot in the oven, nor is the cast-iron fry-pan lid very elegant. Nonetheless, the latter is the closest to the optimum size, until I can find something better. In the oven it goes.After another half-hour (for a total second rise of two hours) you can see the dough has expanded a fair amount. Big air bubbles are evident beneath the skin if you look closely. (Though it may not be evident in the photo.)
I like to top my basic loaf with wheat bran (bought in bulk from Wild Oats Market), a generous sprinkle of spicy sesame topping, and just a little coarse sea salt. Don't use too much salt; it's fairly potent.Fold the dough in thirds, like a letter, first vertically, then horizontally. The dough is sticky but a very light dusting of flour makes it workable.
I put down the layer of toppings
next to the loaf, then roll it over onto them and shift it around a little so much of it sticks.
Like this.
Meanwhile that pot has been preheating in the oven, along with the lid, which I wrapped in tin foil to ensure a tight seal. I pick up the dough and quickly flip it into the pot so the toppings are where they should be – on top. You can give the pot a good shake to settle the dough into shape if it's lopsided.The bread cooks in the pot with the lid on for half an hour. Then with the lid off another 15 minutes or so, or until the crust is a lovely golden color. If bottom-burning is a problem for you, you can put a cookie sheet underneath for the last 10 minutes of cooking.

This loaf turned out not quite as golden as I wanted ... I pushed the cooking time because I had to head to work. It could have used another 5-10 minutes to get a little deeper color and crustier crust. But it's still lovely!

Thanks for hints gleaned from Apartment Therapy: The Kitchen and the posts and comments on Holy Bread and No-Knead Loaf No. 10 at Rose Levy Beranbaum's site.

Holiday treat

If this item in the Williams-Sonoma catalog has tempted you, but you wondered whether the execution is as good as the theory, I can testify that yes, it is.

What I'm reading:
"Restless" by William Boyd

I just finished rereading this terrific novel – I rushed through it so eagerly the first time (just a couple of months ago) that I wanted to go back and savor some of the nuances I probably missed.

"Restless" is the story of a woman who was recruited to be a British spy during World War II, intertwined with the story of her adult daughter's discovery of that secret past. It's a well-told tale that propels you forward in spite of what would normally (for me) be irritating switching between timelines and narrators. It's also a story that can appeal to readers of varied tastes, men or women. It's got cloak-and-dagger elements, cliff-hanging, sex and sexual tension, psychological conundrums, questions about identity and musings on mortality.

I highly recommend it.

All is revealed

While winter and snow bury many things and send others into hiding or hibernation, they also lay some secrets bare.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Snow fort!

The errors of my ways

It would be nice if life came with the occasional error message or warning.

I would have benefited greatly from a well-timed "Are you sure you want to [insert regrettable action here]? Yes/No"

Friday, December 29, 2006

Hotel hijinks

The Adam's Mark is generally considered upscale. (I've always called it the "squashed Gumby" hotel, after its logo.) Certainly, the mojitos are fine, especially with the backdrop of a snowblower. And fun when one's co-workers are all staying there too.

Ring ring. "Hello?" "Hey Kitt, can you bring your camera up to J's room?" "Um, OK. Why?" "You'll see when you get here. J has a story to tell."

I leave the bar, go up to J's room, where I see a small crowd is gathered. J is being moved to another room. Why? Because J has just spent three hours trapped in the bathroom. She closed the door and it locked her in. She pounded and pounded and tried to get the hinges out and yelled. She could hear a co-worker laughing, oblivious to her plight, in the next room.

It was finally another hotel guest who called the front desk, after standing outside the door and listening for a while.

It took them an hour to free her ... just in time for last call.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Pretty snow

Winter wonderland

As much as a hassle as snowstorms can be, they sure are pretty. Even footprints look all delicate and graceful. That's my Merrill moc on the right. An unknown (tall) stranger's sneaker on the left.

Every dog has her day

First a walk in the snow, then a bone!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Déjà vu

We haven't recovered from the last one yet, but here we go again.

They're saying 10 to 18 inches. I hope they're wrong.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry mountains!

What better day to hit the slopes? Easy drive, no traffic, everyone's happy. Moonbeam's Mom and I had a blast. We had to leave early (I had to get back to town for another holiday dinner), but that was good: We're now inspired to get out and ski more, more, more! (Sometimes it's just so hard to get out of bed early for it. But then I'm glad I did.)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

A lovely Christmas tree shone upon the stockings hung with care, and upon the most delicious feast of roast beast and bûche de noël.

Happy holidays to one and all!

Hot slaw on a cold day

Hot Indian slaw from Once Upon a Feast, which I found through Kalyn's Kitchen, which I found through all the bloggers taking part in Menu for Hope, which raised money (more than $58,000!) for the World Food Program.

This slaw is pretty tasty. The first batch came out too salty for me, so I made another batch without salt and mixed them together. (I use so little salt in my cooking now that I really notice it.) I used a couple Thai bird chiles, since that's what I had handy. I'm taking it to a potluck Christmas Day after skiing, so I wanted something I could make ahead and serve cold or at room temp.

This my first attempt at fancy close-up food photography. I can see why there's a need for food stylists. It's tricky!

Oh, and guess what? It's snowing again.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

No trucks, no produce

An experiment in HTML table-building in Blogger:

Safeway's good for parking during a snowstorm. Not so good for shopping after. The produce manager was unhappy. Apparently a lot of people have been upset at not being able to get Everything They Need Right This Minute.

I was just happy to get something I could fix and take to Christmas dinner. And also milk and eggs. (They were out of pretty much all dairy two days ago.)

Not crumb-y

One thing I love about the Macbook: the integrated keyboard. I feel much less guilty eating cheese and crackers while computing.