There are a few recipes that I've been wanting to try but haven't for a variety of reasons. Osso buco? It's expensive to make. Pasta? I don't have a pasta machine or a rolling pin. Red velvet cake? I'd eat the whole thing in one sitting. Bread? It's complicated: making sure that the yeast is activated, the double rising, the kneading... However, after seeing the no-knead bread make its round on the food blogs and reading how easy it was, I decided to give it a go.
The first time I made this recipe, I planned on making it as part of an elaborate meal. There's a general rule that most people follow and that is to never attempt a recipe for the first time when entertaining guests. However, I was determined to make the rosemary bread because it paired so well with the short ribs and rosemary white bean puree that I was making for dinner. The relief I felt when I lifted up the lid and saw a perfect loaf of bread turned into excitement when I heard it sing. There were many comments from the blogs that said the bread sings to you as the crackly crust cools. At that moment, I fell in love with bread baking.
There really is a need to wax poetic about bread. It's one of those things that is perfect alone but does equally well when served as a companion. The well-roundedness of bread cannot be appreciated enough. It's fabulous drowned in good, fruity, olive oil or eaten with ricotta, honey and a bit of sea salt. It is a wonderful accompaniment for dishes that have leftover sauce as the bread can sop it up; short ribs and meatballs work especially well. When a simple dinner is called for, bread, cheese, sliced meat and of course, a glass of wine is the way to go. For something that is this versatile, what's not to love?
Adapted from New York Times, via Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt (I used 1 tbsp)
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.
1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt (optional: this is the step where I added rosemary). Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball.
Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal.
4. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.