February 15, 2010

Yeasty Goodness

I made bread today!

And this time my loaves turned out A LOT better than the last time. I had been meaning to try this no-knead bread recipe for quite a while. I found it through foodgawker and slowly worked my way towards trying it out. I even went out and bought whole kalamata olives from the olive bar at Farmer Joe's (a lovely Whole Foods-esque market in Oakland, CA). That was about three weeks ago; for some reason I just never got around to working this recipe into my schedule, which took a little bit of effort due to its 20-hour rise period.

But I finally buckled down last night and mixed up the dough (almost) just like the recipe calls for. I did opt for olive bar kalamata olives, rather than jarred. I find that jarred kalamata olives can sometimes be mushy or contain off flavors, so I bought whole olives and pitted them by hand: apply ample pressure with the aid of a spatula and then split to remove the pit (thank you Alton Brown!). I also only used about 1 to 1 1/4 cups olives because I hadn't bought enough. But other than that I followed the recipe exactly up until the very end.

Because I have a mini-dutch oven, I didn't think that I would be able to fit the entire loaf into my enamel cast iron pot without compromising its ability to form a nice round loaf with the necessary hard crust. Rather than halve the recipe or take the risk with one, large loaf, I just split the dough and made two smaller loaves.

I also substituted linen napkins for tea towels and lowered the baking time by a few minutes. Instead of baking for the full 30 minutes with the lid on, I opted for 20 followed by another 20 with the lid off. And good thing too! I think that I would have ended up with a giant olive studded crouton.

I was really nervous about the rolling-the-dough-into-the dutch-oven part. The main concerns that occupied thoughts included burning myself, missing the pot and flinging flour and cornmeal all over the place. Ever wary of making a huge mess, before I attempted to place the dough into my preheated dutch oven, I pulled on one end of the cloth napkin until the still-uncooked loaf was squarely resting on the palm of my hand. I then walked it over to my kitchen sink, uncovered it and let the ends of the napkin fall. Working very carefully, I shifted my fingers around and pulled the ends of the napkin down until nearly all of the excess flour and cornmeal had fallen into the sink. I then positioned my loaf-holding hand a few inches above and in front of the dutch oven and flicked my wrist forward so that the loaf landed in the pot. Success! I was so happy that I hadn't missed.

When the timer sounded for the second time I nervously pulled open the oven door and reached in...to pull out the loveliest, loaf of bread I have ever see. I was so excited when I pulled that first loaf out. It just looked so beautiful and was making the most marvelous crackling noises. After lifting it out of the dutch oven with the aid of a wooden spoon and setting it on a cooling rack, I instantly grabbed my camera and started taking pictures. About 40 minutes later the second loaf came out of the oven decidedly a little flatter than the first, but just as pretty.

And now it was time for the real test: did it actually bake? Did my decision to lower the bake time pay off? Or had I just made a rookie mistake and should I just stick to cupcakes? I took my serrated bread knife to the first loaf and after a few moments of doubt--the loaf felt a little springy--I revealed a perfectly cooked interior.

And it tasted good, too! The insides were quite soft, airy and filled with subtle, yet distinct, kalamata olive flavor. I am definitely making this recipe again: plain, with olives or other seasonings. I'm thinking rosemary is next...

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