Wednesday, July 1, 2009

no knead pain d'epi

I have been filling some of my extra "free" time by baking. With a more flexible schedule, I thought now might be a good time to try some new bread recipes. June gloom has kept temps nice and cool, so I don't have to worry about heating up the house with the oven on. I started exploring my Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day book, and I chose the most basic boule recipe first, figuring once I got the hang of it, I could try something more complicated. Many of the later recipes build on the basic, so it made sense to master that one first.

It's not as easy as the pictures made it look!

Most of the doughs in this book rely on a slow, cold rise. You quickly mix up some basic ingredients - flour, yeast, salt, water, etc. - and let them rise at room temperature for a couple of hours. Then you move the mixture to the fridge where it sits for up to a week. Each time you want bread, you sprinkle the surface of the dough with flour, grab a melon- or grapefruit-sized hunk of dough, and shape, proof, and bake it. Easy, right? Not so much.

First, they use the "scoop and sweep" method of measuring flour. Fine, but I've gotten really used to weighing my flour, so I didn't have a good confidence level that I'd used the right amount. Depending on how you measure it, a cup of flour can vary in weight by 2-3 ounces, easily! Given that a cup of flour only weighs 4-4.5 ounces, that's a pretty big swing.

So I wasn't sure whether my dough was an appropriate texture or whether it was too wet. It rose fine, so I knew the yeast was happy, but I had such trouble working with it - think globs of gluey dough stuck to my fingers - that I wasn't sure if the dough wasn't the right consistency, if my inexperience was the problem, or both. I defimitely had difficulty at the "cloaking" stage; my dough never turned into a neat ball with a smooth outer layer. I also had issues shaping it into the pain d'epi, though I'm sure that would improve with experience and if the dough were less wet. No matter what I tried, I could not slide the dough off the peel, into the oven, without ruining its shape. Parchment was the obvious answer, but it's only oven safe up to about 425F, and the bread bakes at 450F. The biggest issue was the taste. It definitely was good, but it wasn't quite what I was aiming for. I'm not sure how to qualify what I didn't like, but it wasn't quite the taste and texture of the artisan breads I'm used to buying. It tasted yeastier to me. That said, Josh and the family liked it a lot and happily ate it up with butter and honey or with stinky cheese.

I've read a lot of comments on their blog and elsewhere with home bakers raving about Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes, so I think I probably need to keep working at this before I render an opinion. I may work from this King Arthur post to figure out how I can better approximate the amount of flour, allowing for differences in weather, of course. Developing the taste and texture that appeals to me may just take patience and practice, so I will have to give that a go!

Pain d'Epi (Wheat Stalk Bread)
(makes four 1-pound loaves)

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
6 1/2 cups bread flour (or 7 cups all-all purpose flour), measured with the "scoop and sweep" method
whole wheat flour for the pizza peel

I am going to give you the basic directions, but given the trouble I've had, I recommend reading the full instructions straight from the horse's mouth (aka cookbook).

Mix water, yeast, and salt. Mix in the flour. I used my heavy-duty Kitchen Aid with the dough hook. There's no need to knead. Cover with a lid, but not airtight, and let it rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse or flattens on top, about two hours. At that point, mine had hit the top of the lid, so I don't know if it should have collapsed (more). You can let it go longer, up to 5 hours. Although you can bake the dough at this point, it's easier to work with cold, so they recommend putting it in the fridge for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

When you're ready to bake, you basically do as follows. Sprinkle your pizza peel liberally with whole wheat flour (which yielded burnt flour - and the dough still stuck - yuck). Sprinkle the surface of the dough with flour, then reach in and pull out a grapefruit-sized glob. It'll weigh about a pound. Use a serrated knife to cut it off. Add a little more flour so the dough won't stick to your hands (mine was hopeless at this point), and stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, giving it a quarter-turn after each stretch. Gradually elongate it into a baguette shape, tapering the ends to points. (uh huh)

Let the dough rest on the pizza peel for 30 minutes. It doesn't need to be covered, and you may not see much rise depending on how old the dough is. Do not slash it yet.

Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450F with a baking stone on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray on a lower rack - you're going to throw hot water in to create steam.

Just before baking, dust the top of the bread liberally with flour. Using sharp kitchen shears, cut from the top, into the dough, at a 45-degree angle, stopping 1/4" from the bottom. Fold each cut piece over to the side, alternating sides with each cut. Repeat until you reach the end of the loaf.

With a quick forward jerking motion of the wrist and a little magic, slide the loaf onto the baking stone. Quickly pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray, then quickly shut the oven to trap the steam. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the crust is deeply browned and firm to the touch. Cool it completely (yes, wait!) before breaking off the wheat-stalk shapes. Eat with good, sweet butter.

The rest of the dough can stay in the fridge for 14 days and you can bake yourself a loaf whenever you want. Place the lid on top, but don't seal it airtight.

Good luck!

1 comment:

Laura said...

I think your trouble might be going right to baking - I find that the high moisture doughs are much much much better behaved and easy to shape when they are cold from the fridge. If I pull the dough out and wander back when it's come to room temperature, I have a devil of a time getting it to shape well. Also, I have found that high quality yeast (like SAF) makes a world of difference in terms of flavor and effective rising times.