So I've posted a few bread recipes here, but this post is more about my technique, since I've gotten it down to enough of a science that it makes less mess than most bread recipes, and the results are always really good.
I personally do not find "no-knead" recipes to be any less work than "kneaded" recipes - you usually have some step that involves scattering corn meal across half the kitchen, and dish clothes covered in bits of dough. This recipe requires very little kneading, but a lot of time (really, benevolent neglect). However, if you're gonna be home anyway, it doesn't require much effort, so I often make this on a Saturday while grading. I got the basic idea for this approach from a couple books on bread baking. The main thing is that everyone seems to agree that a wetter dough tastes better, has a nicer crumb, etc in the end, and so my approach aims to make a wet bread dough with almost no interaction with it using my hands, and to minimize the amount of counter space that gets covered with flour.
Here's the basic recipe I use to make a really nice, hearty sandwich bread, but hold in mind I mostly eyeball these quantities. This makes 2 two-pound loaves of sandwich bread.
4 cups white flour
3 cups wheat flour
1 cup old fashioned oats
(I also add some flax meal)
1.5 tsp yeast
2 Tbsp molasses
3.5-4.5 cups warm water (approx.)
2 Tbsp oil
2-3 Tbsp salt
2 big bowls
1 strong spatula
More oil for greasing things.
Step 1: Mix
First mix the dry ingredients. If you're worried about the viability of your yeast, proof it with 2 c. water and the molasses. Start by mixing in ca. 3 cups of the wet ingredients (incl. oil) with the dry using a strong, preferably silicone, spatula, stirring really well or else you'll get dry chunks in your final bread.The dough should still be a bit dry at that point - keep adding water until the dough is pretty moist, much wetter than you'd normally let the bread get if you were going to mix it with your hands - it will get drier. Do not add salt at this point. I've tried to take a picture of that here to give you a sense of how wet I normally make it:
Step 2: "Autolyse"
In theory, 'autolyse' is letting the flour sit mixed just with water, so enzymes start to break things down. In practice, the internets seems to suggest that it works just fine if you mix everything except the salt, and then let the bread sit. Supposedly in blind taste tests, this improves the flavor of the bread, but most importantly for me, the dough absorbs the excess moisture, AND it basically gains the cohesiveness you'd otherwise get from kneading.
So after mixing the bread, go do something else for 20 minutes. Eat breakfast, whatever.
Step 3: "Kneading"
Once 20 minutes have passed, sprinkle the salt across the dough and mix it in using just the spatula. I normally leave the salt container next to the bread during the autolyse phase to keep myself from forgetting to add it. To mix, I use a sort of 'folding' motion, and normally it doesn't take more than about a couple minutes before the dough is really pretty cohesive and holds together.
|Can we really be kneaded enough?|
Once the bread is decently cohesive, grease up another bowl and move the bread into that bowl, trying to get as much of the dough out of the first mixing bowl as possible. Cover with a wet cloth or a greased piece of saran wrap, or if your wife is awesome and got you a giant tupperware, use that. Soak the used mixing bowl in cold water, since hot makes the dough stickier. Use the spatula to clean it as much as possible - avoid dish sponges for cleaning, since the dough can get stuck in them, especially the scratchy side.
Step 4: Fogeddaboutit
In the books on breadmaking that I read, when talking about whole wheat breads, they say that instead of worrying about getting the dough really kneaded at first, they just let the rising develop the gluten connections in the bread. So I've taken that to heart, and it works just fine. Let the bread rise as many times as you want until you get around to baking it. When it rises about double its volume, smack it around a bit with a spatula, and then go about your business until it rises again. I usually end up letting it rise 3 times or so. I haven't tried letting it rise only once, cause the whole idea of this setup is benevolent neglect - it's not for if you're in a hurry.
Step 5: Shape and bake
This last step is the only one that requires getting flour over everything. If you're REALLY slick, you could avoid that too, but it's more pain than it's worth I find.
Get a 1/2 cup of white flour in a measuring cup. Use the spatula to knead the dough a bit and remove some air bubbles. If you're going for sandwich bread, getting those air bubbles out is important, but if you are going for a more 'rustic' style you can leave more in there.
Grease/corn meal/etc whatever thing you're going to put the shaped loaves into. I use two metal loaf pans, so I grease them.
Put a bit of flour on the countertop, flip the dough onto the counter, add more flour on top. Knead briefly to reduce air bubbles. I then cut the bread in half using a sharp knife, and shape it into two loaves, adding flour as necessary. I find that it's best to scrape up excess flour with the spatula before wiping up with water.
At this point, I set the oven to preheat to 425. Our oven takes almost exactly as long to preheat as it takes for the shaped loaves to approx. double in size, so as soon as the oven dings I put them in - if your oven is faster, wait till the loaves are about doubled in size, preferably a little less. I bake them about 30-40 minutes, or until tapping on the loaves gives a very hollow sound.
I cool the bread on a rack, and once it's sufficiently cool I usually freeze one of the loaves in a plastic bag. This way, I only really do this once every 2-3 weeks.
This recipe always turns out well, and I think it's a bit easier than the standard 'flour a counter and knead' recipe that you often find. I also find this recipe less work than 'no-knead' recipes.