06/17/2008: "More from the Dough Boy"
I've been continuing to make bread using the no-knead recipe first mentioned a couple of posts back, and it occurred to me that perhaps I should write some more specifics on the method that I've evolved. The photo above shows some panini that I made last week using the same basic recipe, but with raisins and walnuts added. Read on for my improved comments on dough consistency and how to transfer the bread from towel to dutch oven.
First of all, dough consistency, or amount of moisture in the bread: it's almost impossible to state with certainty what amount of water to add to the flour. The type of flour, the humidity in the air, and your own ability to deal with a pretty moist and shaggy dough all affect what amount of water to add to the flour. My sister, bless her, tried the recipe with the one and one-half cup amount of water stated in the New York Times article, and ended up with what was essentially pancake batter (that she had to throw out). Here's a short little video I made of the dough for the panini above; I add enough water to get the dough into a moist ball that slumps readily (warning, clicking on the picture below will download a 7 MB movie!):
For the impatient, or those on low-bandwidth connections, click here for a small version of the dough movie (364k file).
So, you want a dough ball that holds its shape and doesn't ooze around in the bowl too much, and one that slumps pretty readily when you stop poking it. Add either water or flour until this is what you have, then cover with a towel and set aside for 12 to 24 hours.
I've been making a rye bread version, as mentioned in the earlier posting. One thing I've noticed about rye flour is that it doesn't seem to take up the water as readily as wheat flour. Most of my batches have used about a cup and a quarter of water, which is much less than the cup and a half in the original recipe. When I made the panini I didn't use any rye flour, just whole wheat, and it took a bit more water, maybe one and a third cup.
Finally, the other skill that you have to develop is how to deal with the bread after it's risen for 12 to 24 hours. Even though it starts out as a recognizable ball when you first mix it, by the time you're ready to bake it, it has turned into a level-surfaced pool of dough mass in the bowl. It's almost like it has picked up moisture (though the top is usually a little dry). You've got to work out techniques for transferring it to the towel for the final rise, and into the dutch oven for baking. In my first batches I spread flour on a countertop, and then did my folding, and then put it on a towel with corn meal. This had several problems: the dough would stick to the countertop, because it wasn't porous enough to hold the flour. The cornmeal wasn't enough to keep it from sticking to the towel once you got it on the towel, which made it, ahem, a little too exciting trying to get the dough off the towel and into the 475 degree dutch oven.
Solution: spread your towel out and pat flour on it before spooning the dough mass out of the bowl onto the towel. You can create a much more non-stick surface with a floured towel than you can with a countertop. Pat a little flour on your hands before trying to handle the dough. Lightly pat a dusting of flour around the lower edges of the dough mass to keep it from sticking to the towel. Fold a couple of times as directed. Pat flour over the entire dough mass again, and pat it / form it into a ball you can pick up. Pick it up briefly, spread corn meal under it, set it down again, and then fold the towel over it for the final rise. Bake as directed previously.
Here are the panini, which came out a little overdone. Next time I'll shorten both the covered lid and uncovered lid baking times, and I won't go out and twirl the jump rope with the girls when I should be checking the rolls in the oven.