We all read about the NYT no-knead bread last month. It was all over the blogs . But, I was going to have to make mine the hard way. You see, I do not possess a deep, lidded, oven-proof dish that is the prerequisite for the aforementioned bread. From all the debate I gathered that the ‘covered’ pan was the key to raise the moisture during baking, and the secret behind the dead gorgeous crust, and that throwing ice cubes into the oven floor was not going to get me the exact same result. But I liked the idea of less yeast and the longer rising time.
So I decided to work with my basic bread dough recipe and try a few changes. Less yeast, less sugar, less oil, and a much longer rise.
First, I made a sponge. I took a cup or so of hot water to which I added sugar and yeast, and let this foam for 10 minutes. Then I added a cup of flour and mixed this into a batter, covered it and let it sit for an hour. After an hour my mix was looking really frothy. Now I dumped in most of my flour, the salt and the oil and mixed it all into a soft dough using warm water. And then I really worked on it. I mean, really worked on it – turned it on to my kitchen counter which was dusted well with the remaining flour, and kneaded for a good ten minutes, all the while talking with my kitchen help. She is always happy to see me tackle projects other than the regular roti-subzi because then she gets to watch as I do most of the work 🙂 She pretends it is very complicated (kneading a softer than usual dough) and lets me handle it entirely.
I let this rise, all coated with a fine film of oil, for about six hours. Then I punched it down and shaped into two, very large, loaves and let it prove for another hour and half. After that, it took only 20 minutes in my pre-heated convection oven to get my great looking loaves. Next time I might try an egg wash for a glossy brown glaze.
This recipe is a lot of dough, and you will end up with two giant loaves. Feel free to halve or third the recipe if you, like me, do not have fancy kitchen equipment with fancier attachments.
The house was soon filled with the warm nutty smell of baking bread and we enjoyed it with soup on the cold winter New Year’s eve – and for breakfast the entire week. The bread has a medium dense texture and is heavenly toasted and spread with some good-old Amul butter. I have to say, everyone, including my teen son, is in love with home-made brown bread. It rocks.
Whole Wheat Bread
5 C atta (whole wheat flour)
5 C maida (all purpose flour)
3 t yeast
4 t salt
4 t sugar
4 t oil (olive or refined peanut oil)
1T Italian herb mix (or your choice)
In a bowl take a cup of hot water and dissolve the sugar in this. Sprinkle yeast, stir, cover and leave for 10 minutes. The yeast will have started to multiply like crazy giving you a foaming mix. Add a cup of all purpose flour to this and mix well. Cover and set this aside, in a warm place, for an hour. Since it is really cold in Delhi right now, I do this by leaving the bowl in a warmed oven.
After an hour the surface of your flour mix will be covered with large bubbles. Your sponge is ready to receive the rest of the ingredients. Mix everything and turn it onto a floured surface, such as your clean kitchen counter, and knead for a good 10 minutes. Add more flour or water while kneading for a very soft dough, just short of sticky. Spread a little oil in a large bowl, put the giant ball of dough in it. Turn it over so that it is coated with oil on all sides. Cover and leave the dough to rise for 6-8 hrs.
The dough will have doubled in size. Punch it down and divide into two. Dust two loaf tins with flour and put the shaped dough into these for the final rise. This ‘proving’ is very essential for brown breads; it results in a much lighter bread. Lightly cover the loaf tins with oiled cling film and leave in a warm, draft free place, or as in my cold kitchen, in a barely warm oven for an hour and half, till doubled in size.
Bake in a hot oven (Gas Mark 7) for 18-20 min, rotating the tins half way through. The baking time may be different for different ovens, so keep an eye on your loaves. My oven always takes much less time than most recipes call for. Remove from tins and cool on a wire rack.
Wait for the loaves to cool completely before slicing. The wait was short, it being winter time. Thank God!