May 21, 2012

No Knead Bread | Making Bread in Humid Hong Kong

No Knead Bread Making Bread in Humid Hong Kong

no knead bread recipe
By Published: 2012-05-21
Making your own bread is one of those things where the pursuit of it can easily become an obsession.  As for myself, I wouldn't admit that I'm obsessed with making bread but rather that the idea of making your own bread will obsess me at times.  Months, even years, will pass, I will solemnly forswear the laborious and not usually very rewarding effort of making bread and then suddenly, boom, it will creep back into my mind, this idyllic vision of a happy house wrapped in the warm wondrous aroma of baking bread that I have made with my own hands.  And suddenly I am in the kitchen again, covered from head to toe in white flour with a happy grin on my face.  I love making bread, it's really fun in a weird, self torturing way, it's just too bad that my bread usually comes out pretty inedible, actually sometimes as hard as a rock.  But hey, it's definitely useful as a weapon, that's for sure, especially if I've tried to make baguettes shapes.  'Don't make me angry!  You won't like me when I'm angry!'  My very latest round of experiments in bread making is with the famous No Knead Bread recipe in Jim Lahey's book which I finally got around to trying after hearing about it for the longest time.  What an interesting recipe!  No kneading at all, just a little yeast and a long long fermentation time.

no knead bread
Dough after stirring ingredients together

I've made it about four or five times now.  The first couple of times I had trouble because my old granddaddy oven was sputtering out and was not really hot enough to bake this bread.  Plus it was too small and therefore the heat too close to the dough.  Well, I finally did it and got a new bigger oven, though it's still a countertop type oven.  With the new oven's top temperature of 240 C I finally got good oven spring from the dough but one big problem persisted.  The dough was gummy.  The crumb structure actually looked pretty good, but alas there was the gumminess.  

no knead bread
Dough after 18 hours rise
After researching online and some soul searching I figured that Hong Kong's humidity might have something to do with it.  After all it is normal for Hong Kong to have upwards of 90% humidity year round and especially in the summer months.  So for this dough, I reduced the amount of water by 1/4 cup as well as adjusting the salt to taste and adding a bit of sugar.  As you can see from the top image, the dough to nice and round from my nice new hot oven, there was a good hard beautiful crust and it was definitely less gummy in texture.  It actually tasted pretty good!  My family (for once) ate most of the bread that day, slaughtered in butter from pasture feed cows (just discovered Kerry Gold butter , yummy!).  I still think that it could be even less gummy so the next time I'm going to add even less water.  The reason that there is so much water anyways is that you must have a wet dough in order to allow for the no knead process.  But I noticed that with the long fermentation you still end up with a much wetter dough than you started with.  So I will experiment on and hopefully get the ratio spot on soon.  The bread I baked this time was very encouraging (mostly because it was edible!) and this method is so easy and pleasurable in all other aspects, i.e. no kneading dough til your arms fall off, beautiful crust, good open crumb, tasty, etc.

no knead bread
Closeup of bread crumb
No Knead Bread Recipe
(Adapted from New York Times recipe here)

Ingredients

3 cups unbleached all purpose flour ( I used White Wings)
1/4 tsp instant yeast or active dried yeast
2 tsp sea salt (fleur de sel)
1 tsp sugar
Extra flour for dusting

Directions:

Combine flour, yeast, salt and sugar.  Add 1 3/8 c water and stir till all mixed, should be sticky and saggy.  Cover with plastic and let rest for 12 - 18 hours at room temperature.  (Note: You're suppose to activate active dried yeast but I didn't.  I just threw it in and let it do it's thing.)

The dough, when ready should be all dotted with bubbles (see photo above).  Take a spatula, wet with water and use it to fold the dough over on itself once or twice in the bowl.  Or alternatively, you can flour a surface and bring the dough out to do this part.  Cover again and let rest 15 minutes.

Prepare a deep bowl for holding the dough in the 2nd rise.  A deep more narrow bowl will help your dough to rise vertically rather than horizontally.  Line the bowl with a piece of parchment paper that is folded over itself to accommodate the roundness of the bowl.  Try to make it as flat against the bowl sides as possible.  Sprinkle some flour over the bottom.

Shaping the Dough: This part is probably the hardest part of the whole procedure because the dough is so damn sticky.  You have to get all the dough into a ball in your hands and very quickly tuck the dough towards the bottom until the dough is nice and taut and round.  The problem is the dough sticking to your hands (it will want very much to stick all over your hands).  You can try the flour method:  sprinkle some flour over dough and flour your hands and then lift and tuck under.  Or you can try the water method: Wet the dough lightly and wet hands and then lift and tuck under.  I've tried both and still get flour sticking to my hands.  Anyways do the best you can, try not to over handle the dough.  Once you've quickly shaped it let it drop lightly into the bowl you've prepared.  Sprinkle with more flour on top.  Cover and let rise for 2 hours.  Dough should be more than double the size and you should see one or two seriously big bubbles stretching out of the surface.

One half hour before your two hour rise is up, heat oven to 450 F or 240 C.  Put in a covered pot of cast iron, enamel, pyrex or ceramic (big enough to fit the final bread) into the oven to heat up.  I used a chinese clay pot, see photo below.  It is bound on the outside with wires for stability as clay has a tending to crack if extreme temperature changes affect it.  We use this pot for cooking on the stove too and it is very good for cooking that doesn't involve too high temperatures.  Really improves flavor.  Plus it is super affordable!  Just be sure to plug the little hole in the cover with a bit of aluminum foil.

no knead bread ceramic pot

After heating the pot and cover for half hour, carefully take out of oven.  Gently pick up the corners of the parchment paper and lift the whole thing, dough and parchment paper, into the heated pot.  Cover the pot, sandwiching any sticking up parchment under the lid.  Stick back in the oven and bake 30 minutes.  Remove lid and back another 15 to 30 minutes until golden brown.  To test for doneness take out of oven and turn over to expose bottom.  Tap with wooden spoon.  If there is a hollow drum like sound it is done inside.  Cool on a rack until cool enough to touch comfortably before slicing.  If you slice too soon the bread will get all squishy and gummy, so wait for it.  

Yeah, you just made bread and it was easy peasy!  Enjoy, enjoy!

More Doughy recipes at The Hong Kong Cookery:

new york style pizza recipeBest Pizza Ever | Make Your Own Pizza

new york pizza crust dough recipeNew York Crust Pizza Dough
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