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Bento Recipe: No-knead bread


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Shaggy Muppety breadThis bread has a very different flavor and texture from anything I've made before. Kneading bread isn't a problem for me - I have a bread machine for that! - but if you knead bread by hand, this can save you a lot of drudgery! And the bread is really fantastic - the long rise intensifies the flavor, and it has a neat, bubbly crumb structure.

This recipe has been going around the Web recently. I've traced it back to an article in the November 8, 2006 edition of The New York Times, The Secret of Great Bread: Let Time Do the Work.

What you need :

    1.5 cups of water
    1/4 teaspoon of instant yeast. No, that's not a typo.
    3 cups of all-purpose or bread flour. (I use bread flour.)
    Cornmeal or wheat bran (I use wheat bran.)

    A large mixing bowl
    A large, heavy covered pot, casserole dish, or the equivalent
    A cotton towel, like a flour sack kitchen towel

Mix the yeast and flour, then add the water. Mix until you have a large, shaggy doughball and there is no more loose flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 12-18 hours.

When the dough is bubbly, it's ready for the next stage. Flour a working surface and your hands, flatten the dough on it without getting too rough, then fold it once or twice to make a ball. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes. Coat the cotton towel with wheat bran or cornmeal - don't skimp, you don't want the dough to stick to the cloth! - and put the dough, seam side down, on it. Sprinkle it with more cornmeal or wheat bran. Cover it with another cotton towel and leave it to rise for two hours.

A half hour before the bread is done rising, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, with the container in which you'll be cooking the bread inside. This is important, as it should be hot when the dough goes in! Don't grease the container; the steam generated from the wet dough will prevent sticking. Anyway, when the dough seems ready poke your finger a half-inch into it; if the dough doesn't spring back right away it's time to cook it. So, carefully take the cooking container out of the oven and dump the dough into it. (Fair warning: the wheat bran will go flying everywhere!) Put the lid on and bake the bread for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for 10 more minutes to let the crust brown. Take it out and let it cool down on a rack. Slice and eat!

This recipe is rather imprecise, which is fine; there's room to improvise and experiment with this one. As you can see in the photo at the top of the page, I use plenty of wheat bran, resulting in amusingly shaggy loaves. Plenty tasty, but messy to slice! Also note that the cover should hold in the steam if you want a soft crust. (I use a Pyrex bowl and, as a cover, a Pyrex plate of the same size.) The one time I made it with a cover that allowed too much circulation, I ended up with a thick, chewy crust. I don't mind at all, but others might.