Sunday, April 11, 2010

No knead breads

One of the best things about being part of the Can Jam, a monthly canning challenge, is that I read the blogs of my fellow Can Jammers. A while ago, I became intrigued with a post about a yeasted banana bread on one of them, but curiously, it didn't have the actual recipe for the bread. I placed a hold on the book Kneadlessly Simple by Nancy Baggett at the library, and I got it this week. This cookbook fully exploits every facet of the no knead bread fad...i.e. using a long, slow rise with very wet dough that was widely popular in the 19th century and still popular in Europe. I have tried the famous Mark Bittman recipe for No Knead Bread and it was the first loaf of bread I have successfully ever made. I then read Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, but determined that process was going to require more refrigerator real estate than I was willing to devote to bread. In an issue of Martha Stewart Living, I saw a recipe for regular kneaded bread and decided to give a kneading a try again, and it came out wonderfully. So I've been on a veritable bread making kick for the last couple of months!

I decided to give the recipe for yeasted banana Bundt style coffee ring a try in Kneadlessly Simple. I have to say I found this cookbook really confusing to understand and the recipes not straightforward at all, despite the book's promising name. I found the recipes writing style annoying.   It was like reading Mad Libs - remember that kid's came where there's a story with blanks and you fill in the nouns, adjectives, adverbs, etc. to make a funny story? Same thing with these recipes - there's a formula, and ingredients and methods are plugged in repeatedly, whether it makes sense or not.   Plus, the author uses something called the "KS quotient", but she never explains what it means. I can't help my math nerdliness, but I was expecting a quotient to indicate dividing something - maybe dividing the recipe?? But then it dawned on me that the "KS quotient" was the author's way of rating how difficult the recipe is. KS stands for "kneadlessly simple". Doh! (or maybe I should say "Dough" because this is a bread making blog post). Anyway, the yeasted banana bread recipe was rated a KS quotient of "Easy".

There were many faults with the recipe as it was written - the rise times took much longer, rapid rise techniques didn't work, and there were too many optional directions.  One size doesn't fit all...I am wondering if the recipe was tested repeatedly.  Sure doesn't sound like it.  The ingredients list was strange....for example, the author lists 6 1/2 T. clover honey....seriously???? Why use tablespoons as the unit measurement?  Why not cups?  Is that half tablespoon really going to make or break the recipe? 1/4 c. is 4 tablespoons, so I just measured this out in a measuring cup and eyeballed it a smidge above the 1/4 c. line and called it a day. The end result could have been sweeter, so in my adaptation, I've goosed up the honey to a half cup. And do we really need to call out what kind of pollen the bees used to make the honey? I don't think anyone would use a unique tasting honey like buckwheat or something for baking. Why not just call it "honey"?  Also, I would increase the chocolate amount - just use the whole bag of chips.  Lastly, the author makes a big deal about using ice water in her recipes to slow down the rise. She even has a paragraph devoted to "readying the ice water". I had no idea making ice water was so difficult! Furthermore, I don't think the temperature of the water is going to make much of a difference in the end result. Her goal was to stall the rise as much as possible, but I think that ice water wouldn't do much to the rise time anyway. I've forgotten how to do the heat transfer calculation that would tell me how long it would take a cup of ice water to get to room temperature, but common sense tells me "not very long" and plus, yeast gives off a lot of heat anyway. She might have achieved a slower rise by freezing the flour instead. Jim Lahey doesn't give a hoot about the water temperature in the famous Mark Bittman No Knead Bread recipe. So, my gut is telling me don't bother with the water temperature. It won't matter. Here's the recipe with my adaptations to make the process easier to understand, and the actual processing times it took to make it. It took lots longer than the recipe implied. The recipe is a good one to start on a Friday night to eat for a Sunday morning breakfast. It would make excellent French toast for an elegant Sunday brunch!

Yeasted Banana Bundt Style Coffee Ring

3 1/2 c. bread flour
1 t. salt
3/4 t. instant yeast (look for a jar labeled "Bread Machine Yeast" in the baking aisle of the grocery store)
3 mashed overly ripe bananas
1/2 c. honey
2 T. vegetable oil
1 1/2 t. grated orange zest
3/4 c. water
2 T. butter, melted and cooled
12 oz. bag bittersweet chocolate morsels

In a large bowl, stir together flour, salt and yeast. In a stand mixer bowl, add bananas honey, oil, zest, water and butter, stir to combine with paddle attachment. Add flour mixture, and stir until combined. It will be a wet, rubbery dough. Place in a well oiled large bowl and cover and allow to rise 18 hours in a cool spot.

The next day, add the chocolate morsels, stirring with a spoon to combine. Press the dough into a 10-12 cup well oiled Bundt pan, brush the top with melted butter. Allow the dough to rise again until double....this took me about 8 hours in the microwave with the door closed. Bake in a 375F oven with the rack one notch lower than center for 25 minutes. Cover with foil and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the internal temp reaches 208- 210F. Let it cool on a wire rack. Drizzle with chocolate glaze if desired.

Later, I'll write some more about this cookbook. Despite my critique of it's style and my questioning of it's techniques, it does give great insights on how to convert any bread recipe you might have to a no knead recipe, and I think that would be very interesting to try.   I'd like to use more no knead breads this summer while camping. No knead breads would be excellent to mix up ahead of time and bake in a Dutch oven over charcoal. I can't wait for summer camping!


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your thorough review. The idea of converting recipes to no-knead appeals to me (although I must confess my Kitchen Aid usually does most of the kneading in my house . . . unless I'm in a bad mood.) For a newbie like me I would have been totally lost - thank you for also explaining where you used your judgment instead of blindlessly following the recipe. Hope to get to that level of baking / cooking someday!

Tricia said...

I have a dessert cookbook by her, and yes, she does have a tendency to go on and on and on, doesn't she? I think she spends 3 pages explaining how to prepare and use chocolate for dipping caramels.