One new year's day, Tom and I offered to make dinner and take it over to some friends. Tom decided to make a lasagna and I told him that I would take responsibility for the rest of the meal. For some reason I decided to make another attempt at no-knead bread. If you follow this blog, you know that I almost never bake yeasted breads, because I suck at making them. But hope springs eternal, so I tried the Cook's Illustrated almost no-knead recipe one more time.
The Cook's Illustrated recipe is a variation on the highly-publicized no-knead recipe developed by Jim Lahey and popularized by Mark Bittman in the New York Times. It attempts to improve on the Lahey-Bittman recipe by: 1) using significantly less water to create dough that is easier to handle, 2) including beer and white vinegar to produce a more complex flavor, 3) kneading the dough for 10-15 seconds after the first rise, and 4) putting the bread on a piece of parchment paper for the second rise so that you can pick up the parchment and drop the parchment and dough together into the preheated dutch oven without having the dough deflate. Kneading the bread for 10-15 seconds is necessary to achieve a desirable texture with this lower-hydration recipe, and this step gives the recipe its "almost no-knead" name.
I tried the recipe exactly as written (using King Arthur bread flour instead of all-purpose flour, since that's what I had on hand), and was absolutely thrilled to achieve a fairly attractive, tasty loaf. Although the crust was almost alarmingly dark (see picture at the beginning of this post), it wasn't burned at all.
The texture was just a little rubbery, but the flavor was nice and bready, the crumb was nice, and the crust was wonderfully chewy. I served the bread as an appetizer along with some homemade muhammara spread, which is my current favorite. There is definitely room for improvement with the bread, but I was completely satisfied with the result, especially in light of my past failures.
For dessert, I made a bread pudding using a recipe a friend raved about from Home Cooking with Charlie Trotter. I purchased an Italian loaf of bread from Whole Foods, cubed it, and let the bread dry for a day before I made the bread pudding. The recipe is incredibly decadent. It calls for 6 cups of cubed bread, 3 cups of heavy cream, and 3 eggs plus 3 egg yolks. Cinnamon, sugar, cranberries, and walnuts round out the ingredient list. The bread pudding is baked in a 9-inch by 9-inch pan, in a waterbath. The pudding is accompanied by a vanilla anglaise sauce made with another cup of heavy cream, two egg yolks, vanilla and sugar.
I liked the bread pudding, but I wasn't thrilled with it. It was rich and custardy, but just not all that different from other bread puddings I've had in the past. I think part of the problem was that I baked it at our house, and then immediately packed it up hot to take over to our friends' house for dinner. There, the bread pudding sat at room temperature while we chatted for a while and enjoyed the other courses of the meal. I re-warmed the bread pudding in the oven for a bit while I made the vanilla anglaise, but I think that the dish really lost something sitting out at room temperature for a few hours. I expect that it would be much better fresh out of the oven.
Although the bread pudding was a little disappointing, I was so pleased with the passability of my yeasted loaf that I decided that I'm going to keep baking yeasted loaves. I'm excited to see what bread goodies this next year brings!
- "Almost No-Knead Bread" from the January/February 2008 issue of Cook's Illustrated.
- "Cinnamon-Cranberry Bread Pudding with Vanilla Anglaise" from Home Cooking with Charlie Trotter by Charlie Trotter.