This summer I received two birthday gifts that will keep on giving for a long time. The first was a seltzer machine. I think my mother expected me to use that Amazon gift certificate for something essential, like a Kitchen Aid mixer, but with Joe purchasing 2 liters of Perrier almost daily, a seltzer machine seemed downright practical. The second gift was a cookbook, Kneedlessly Simple, from two very thoughtful co-workers. I’d heard of no-knead breads…I remembered but hadn’t tried that famous no-knead recipe in the New York Times, and I had also come across an English Muffin post on A Year in Bread that piqued my interest. Receiving this book gave me a perfect opportunity to try something completely different. While I’m patting myself on the back for sticking with the hearth loaf recipe, I and my eaters are a little bored with it. It continues to improve, but it is what it is. And whatever it is does not have big yummy gaping holes.
But no-knead Crusty White Peasant-Style Pot Bread does! The process involves several very long fermentation periods. After mixing the ingredients, the stiff dough went into the fridge for 10 hours (the recipe calls for a minimum of 3 hours). So that was Thursday night. When the dough came out of the fridge it sat for a 24-hour rise at a cool room temperature. This was during that heat wave back in August and I cringe to say I left the dough in front of a running air-conditioner all day while I was at work. It was the only way to maintain 67-70 degrees. I’m not even sure I could guarantee those temperatures during the winter! After a gentle punch-down I had options for the last rise. Since it was evening, I did another extended rise in the refrigerator overnight instead of a 2-hour rise at a warm room temperature. I could have left the dough in fridge for another full 24 hours, bringing the fermentation period up to 58 hours – whoa. The science behind all of this fermentation is micro-kneading. According to experts, the fermentation process mimics kneading on a molecular level. The secret is a long fermentation, and that must be at lower temperatures in order prevent the yeast from losing it’s vigor. So on Saturday morning I brought the dough back up to room temperature and placed it in a plain old sauce pan. I added a sprinkle of coarse salt, lidded the pot, and popped it in the oven. Keeping a lid on the pot created an ideal steamy environment.
The result was, dare I say, heavenly. I brought it to Caroline’s Restoration Farm potluck and in retrospect, I wish I had kept it all for myself! The finished loaf was golden-brown on top and riddled with large moist holes. When I tore off a slice the crumb separated in rough strips like string cheese. My only complaint is the unassuming pot shape: round with flat sides. I’m thinking next time I’ll try using a lidded oval ceramic mold I’ve yet to find a use for. And now that we’ve got cold weather on the way, I can forgo the air-conditioner!