First of all, I’m pleased to report to you that I have had some very favorable feedback from folks who have tried the “Beer Bread” recipe. One of the people uses the “beerless” variation of the recipe, and tells me that it is a favorite for her family. Three other people have used several different kinds of beer and report to me that there are subtle differences in each loaf made with each different beer. And I got a report that one of our readers, that, since making her first loaf, she has had to make “a loaf of it each week” to keep her family happy. And, she says, “it’s so easy to throw together that I don’t mind at all!”
This month’s bread shares a few characteristics with the “Camp Bread,” in that it is easy, straight forward, has few ingredients, and the labor content to produce it is very low. Therefore, it meets all the requirements to make The Practical Baker quite happy, and I hope you’ll find a place for it in your recipe book.
Innovations in bread baking are rare. In fact, the 6,000-year-old process hasn’t changed much since Pasteur made the commercial production of standardized yeast possible in 1859. The introduction of the gas stove, the electric mixer and the food processor made the process easier, faster and more reliable. As Mr. Lahey says: “I teach a truly minimalist breadmaking technique that allows people to make excellent bread at home with very little effort. The method is surprisingly simple — I think a 4-year-old could master it — and the results are fantastic.” Mr. Lahey’s method is striking on several levels. It requires no kneading. (Repeat: no kneading!) It uses no special ingredients, equipment or techniques. It takes very little effort. It accomplishes all of this by combining a number of unusual though not unheard of features. Most notable is that you’ll need about 24 hours to create a loaf; time does almost all the work. Mr. Lahey’s dough uses very little yeast, a quarter teaspoon , and he compensates for this tiny amount of yeast by fermenting the dough very slowly. The dough is very wet:, about 42 percent water, which is at the extreme high end of the range that professional bakers use to create crisp crust and large, well-structured crumb, both of which are evident in this loaf.
The dough is so sticky that you couldn’t knead it if you wanted to. It is mixed in less than a minute, then sits in a covered bowl, undisturbed, for about 18 hours. It is then turned out onto a board for 15 minutes, quickly shaped , and allowed to rise again, for a couple of hours. Then it’s baked. That’s it.
What makes Mr. Lahey’s process revolutionary is the resulting combination of great crumb, lightness, incredible flavor — long fermentation gives you that — and an enviable, crackling crust, the feature of bread that most frequently separates the amateurs from the pros.
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus some for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
1 5/8ths cup room temperature water
1. In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast and salt. Add the water and stir until blended. The dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest for 12-18 hours at room temperature.
2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place the dough on it. Sprinkle a bit more flour on it, and fold it over once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes.
3. Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape it into a ball. Generously coat a cotton (NOT TERRY CLOTH) towel with flour. Put the dough, seam side down, on the towel and dust with more flour. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When the dough is ready, it will be at least twice the size and will not readily spring back when you poke it with your finger.
4. About a half hour before the dough is ready, heat the oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6-8 quart, heavy, covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in the oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven. Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough into the pot, seam side up. (It may look like a mess, but that’s OK; this ain’t pretty bread, it’s good bread!) Shake the pot once or twice to make sure the dough is settled into place; it will straighten out as it cooks. Cover with a lid and bake it for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for another 15-30 minutes, until it is beautifully browned.
5. Remove and place on a cooling rack for 10 minutes (if you can stand it!).
This recipe will yield a 1 ½ pound loaf. If you like to experiment, paint an egg wash on the bread before you begin the 15-30 minute, uncovered cook cycle. And, you can add some sesame seeds to the bread after you’ve painted it with egg wash. And, if you have it, a few sprinkles of finishing salt on the egg washed loaf can be interesting.
Knock yourself out, and ENJOY!