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July 9, 2007 / Tony

Bread Experiment

 After posting the recipe for No-Knead Bread, Todd wrote a comment suggesting that I use my Dutch oven for other bread recipes.  After letting that stew in my brain for a few days, I began to think of how to concretely use this advice.  I tried to think of all the types of bread that I have made that would benefit from being baked in a Dutch-oven.  I eventually decided to use a recipe from The New German Cookbook by Jean Anderson and Hedy Würz (I recommend it, you can buy it from Amazon here).  I chose this recipe because it was the recipe that required the most kneading of any bread I have ever done.  Take a look at it:

Weizenbrot (German White Bread), from The New German Cookbook

Makes one 11-inch loaf

7 (approximately) cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour

1 (1/4 oz.) package active dry yeast

2 tsp salt

2 cups warm water

Mix 5 /12 cups of the flour, the yeast, salt, and water in a large mixing bowl to make a soft dough, then beat hard until smooth and elastic.  This is exhausting, so if you have a heavy-duty food processor or mixer with a dough hook, by all means use it, beating the dough for 1 minute exactly, then letting it rest and cool for 5 minutes.  Now beat the dough for 30 seconds by machine and again let rest for 5 minutes.  Repeat the beating and resting process four more times.  Scoop the dough into a well-buttered, warm, large bowl.  With well-buttered hands, pat the surface of the dough so it is nicely buttered, too.  Cover with a clean dry cloth and set to rise in a warm dry spot, away from drafts, until doubled in bulk.  This will take about 1 hour. 

Toward the end of rising, spread a pastry cloth on the counter and sprinkle with ¼ cup of the remaining flour.  Punch the dough down, place on the floured cloth, and sift another ¼ cup of the remaining flour on top.  Gently but carefully knead in the flour.  At first, the dough will be very sticky, but keep adding the remaining flour, ¼ cup at a time, and kneading it in until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Once the dough is a good manageable consistency, knead hard for 10 minutes.  This extra kneading gives the bread its firm, chewy texture.  Shape the dough into an oval loaf 9 to 10 inches long and 4 to 5 inches wide and place on a lightly floured baking sheet.  Cover with the cloth and let rise in a warm, dry, draft-free spot for 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bake the bread for 1 hour, until nicely tan and hollow-sounding when thumped.  Remove the bread from the oven, transfer to a wire rack, and cool to room temperature.

Notice the two kneading periods; an initial one to get most of the flour incorporated and then another one after the first rise.  The idea in the recipe is to get a firm, chewy character.  These instructions, of course, are in stark contrast to the minimal mixing done in the No-Knead Bread recipe.  I also chose this recipe because the cookbook also recommended that steam would improve the crust of the bread.  Steam is what helps bread achieve that crispy, chewy, and almost crackly crust that is so good.  The Dutch-oven method of cooking assists the creation of steam because the lid of the Dutch-oven traps all of the moisture coming off of the bread during baking. 

So here is what I did:  I halved the recipe because 7 cups of flour is (I think) too big of a loaf for a Dutch-oven and certainly too much bread for me to eat.  I took 2 3/4 cup of bread flour (I wanted more gluten from the increased amount of protein in the flour.), 2 teaspoons yeast (I know that isn’t half but I wanted some extra leavening power.), 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 cup warm water.  I kneaded the dough as indicated in the recipe.  Even at this point, I could tell that I wouldn’t be needing any additional flour in the next kneading stage as directed by the recipe.  This was due to two factors: the usage of bread flour and my rather lax measuring of the initial amount of flour.  I then let it rise almost double and then I thought, since I was baking the next morning anyway, why am I not letting it rise slowly in the fridge?  So I stuck it in there and went to bed.  The next morning, I took it out about 7:30 AM.  It was just about double in volume so I let it sit on the counter for about an hour.  It rose slightly and then I did the second kneading; a good five or six minutes in my stand mixer at medium speed.  I then shaped it into a boule (basically a sphere)and put it in my Dutch-oven.  (Remember, this was the whole point of the baking.)  And then I let it rise.  And it just rose a lot.  What I had forgotten to figure into my baking plans was my attendance at church at 10:30 AM.  That’s about a two hour excursion with driving times and a few errands I had to run.  In the end, the bread rose from about 8:45 AM to 12:00 PM.  It was a little more than double (probably a bit overrisen).  I slashed the top a few times (I admit I need some better technique on this.) and baked it for 40 minutes with the Dutch-oven top on and 10 minutes with the top off.  I cooked it longer with the top on because I started with a cold Dutch-oven as opposed to the hot Dutch-oven directed in the No-Knead Bread recipe.   Here’s the result:

 img_0278.jpg

img_0280.jpg

The bread was good but not spectacular.  The crust was chewy but too crackly as you can see from the picture.  The crumb was pretty tight and had some “bite” but since it was overrisen, it had a lightness to it that reminded me of those European-style breads at the grocery store that try to be good bread but just don’t really make it.  And, most importantly, it wasn’t as good as No-Knead Bread.  Well, chalk it up to experience.  We’ll try something else next weekend. 

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