It’s kinda crazy to be turning on the oven so often during the summer but I don’t care. I’ll be barefooted and sweaty in my hot little kitchen without a care in the world. On Friday, after we’d been blessed with a few weeks of warm, glorious (and most importantly) continuous sunshine in Vancouver, the weather did what it’s apt to do in our part of the world – the skies darkened and opened up as if to unleash 2 weeks worth of pent-up rain.
Walking to the office, clutching my umbrella as if my life depended on it, I felt myself ease into the usual routine of the city. It was quarter to nine in the morning but so dark it felt like twilight. The rain was pounding down, making comforting tapping sounds against my umbrella. The lights from the street were glistening on the slick pavement. A giant tour bus drove by and I couldn’t scuttle away from the side of the road fast enough, a wave of water washing over my calves and shoes.
The November-like Vancouver weather made me crave something hearty and homey. The Big Sis From Another Miss posted up gorgeous photos of a cheesy version of Jim Lahey’s famous no-knead bread on her FaceBook page earlier this week. I wanted to go home the very night I viewed them and whip up the starter for this delicious bread but alas, my plans didn’t come to fruition. Instead, I thought about that bread all week and was finally able to indulge my craving on Saturday morning. I couldn’t think of a better way to start the weekend.
The recipe can be found here on the Sullivan Street Bakery’s website. And if you simply Google the recipe, you’ll find a lot of food bloggers who have made this bread.
Or check out this video, where Mark Bittman of the NY Times gets a play-by-play from Jim Lahey himself on his method.
I’ve made the bread once before by following the recipe to the letter and my one complaint is how dark, thick and just downright burnt the crust became.
That was due to the extremely high temperature and the length of baking time the original recipe prescribes. While the bread inside was soft and savoury, with a pleasant, intensely yeasty flavour, the crust was way too hard. It ruined my bread eating experience.
Armed with this knowledge, I tweaked the recipe a bit and added a whole lotta yummy goodness.
No Knead Cheddar Garlic Bread (adapted from Jim Lahey’s famous no knead bread recipe in My Bread: the Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method)
3 cups bread flour (I used extra healthy white bread flour…does sarcasm come through clearly via the written word?)
1 1/4 teaspoon table salt (next time I would decrease the salt because the cheddar and garlic added so much salty savoury flavour)
1/4 teaspoon instant or other active dry yeast
1 1/3 cup cool water
wheat bran, cornmeal, or additional flour for dusting (I used a combo of cornmeal and flour)
1 1/2 cup shredded extra sharp aged cheddar
5 cloves garlic, minced fine
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand (I of course used my hand – it’s an all purpose appendage!), mix until it’s a wet sticky dough, about 30 seconds. If it’s not really sticky, add another tablespoon or two of water.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. The surface will dot with bubbles and the dough will more than double in size. This will take from a minimum of 12 hours to 18 hours (the latter being Lahey’s preferred time).
I totally didn’t time the whole procedure right and ended up leaving the dough out for about 22 hours before I moved onto the second step (my bread still turned out totally fine). Generously dust a work surface with flour. Remove the dough from the bowl and place it onto your floured surface. It’s going to come out all stringy, in long, thin, sticky strands, which looks and feels really cool. I wish I had taken a picture but my hands were completely covered in dough. Don’t worry about the stickiness and don’t be tempted to add more flour to it. Simply lift the edges of the dough towards the centre a few times and shape the dough into a ball.
It was at this point that I mixed in the minced garlic and about 1 1/4 cup of the cheddar. It’s messy, imprecise work – just fold the dough a few times until you feel the garlic and cheese are well incorporated.
Dust a cotton or linen tea towel with wheat bran, cornmeal or flour. Lift the dough onto the towel, seam side down, and dust the top of the dough with your dusting agent of choice. Fold the ends of the towel loosely over the dough, making sure its covered, and place in a warm, draft-free spot for its second rise, which should take 1-2 hours. The dough is ready when it’s almost doubled in size. You should be able to make an indent in the dough without it filling in.
Half an hour before the end of this second rise, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F, with the rack in the lower third position, and place a covered 4 1/2 – 5 1/2 quart heavy pot inside the oven to preheat. When the dough is ready to bake, remove the pot and very very carefully, lift up the dough and quickly invert it into the pot, seam side up. Needless to say, the pot is smoking hot and you don’t want to burn yourself, all in the name of bread. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the lid and throw the remaining cheddar cheese onto the top of the bread. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees F. Continue baking uncovered until the bread is a gorgeous golden brown, about 15-30 minutes more. I baked mine for another 20 minutes after removing the lid.
When it’s done, remove the bread from the pot and place on a rack to cool. Lahey recommends not slicing or tearing into it until it has properly cooled, which takes at least an hour.
My apartment smelled so damn good with that yeasty, cheesy, garlicky scent permeating the air. The bread was as golden as a sunset, the cheese a deep crusty orange on top. It was glistening with fat and it took all of my will power not to grab it and cram it into my greedy mouth.
Because I decreased the heat substantially, the crust was just the way I wanted. Golden, crispy but light, not like razors-to-the-top-of-the-mouth, with an incredibly soft yet pleasantly chewy interior. The punch of garlic was strong and intoxicating, with the cheese adding a mellower, buttery flavour. Toast it the next day or use it to make stellar sandwiches.
This is the best bread I’ve ever baked. It was so easy, the hardest part being the timing of it all. And this recipe is so open to adaptation. I can’t wait to try other flavour combinations, like caramelized onion with rosemary and mozzarella. Or maybe a sweet version with figs, cinnamon and walnuts. The possibilities are endless! As is the potential width of my waistline! I kid – carbs are totally worth every calorie.