On the cusp of yet another snowstorm (seriously, what is going on? The snow is currently flying straight up), I braved the grocery store to buy milk. I did not, however, buy bread.
The main reason I didn’t buy bread is because I don’t generally use that much bread at home. But ignore that, please.
The other reason I didn’t buy bread is because I’ve been MAKING bread. And please believe me when I say that if I can make this bread, you can too. It took me three tries, because I am not good at following directions and superb at making simple things harder than they ought to be. This bread is simple, and if you can follow directions worth a darn it is easy. Not quite as easy, perhaps, as the original no-knead bread, but definitely worth the tiny bit of extra effort.
Let’s review some of my errors, shall we? First, when the directions say “rubber spatula,” that is what they mean. They do not mean the really cool-looking bread whisk your mom got you. The rubber spatula is necessary to get the dough to come together. Second, when the directions say to “whisk” the dry ingredients together, that means “combine thoroughly,” not “haphazardly stir.” Third, when measuring beer, foam doesn’t count.
But on the third try, it finally worked, and beautifully. I even managed to successfully swap half the all-purpose flour with white whole wheat and a tablespoon of vital wheat gluten. (If you do this swap, make sure to really thoroughly mix in the flours and the gluten, or else the texture ends up inconsistent and weird. That was the main error in attempt #2.)
Almost no-knead bread
From Cook’s Illustrated, via Adventures in Shaw (I actually have the Cook’s Illustrated that has this recipe but had forgotten about it. Thanks to Adventures in Shaw for bringing it back to my attention!)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for the work surface
1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid rise yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water, at room temperature
1/2 cup mild-flavored beer, at room temperature [I only had really crappy pumpkin beer that I couldn’t bring myself to drink, and it worked great, without crappy pumpkin beer taste in the bread at all]
1 tablespoon white vinegar
vegetable oil spray
Whisk the flour, yeast, and salt together in a large bowl. Fold in the water, beer, and vinegar with a rubber spatula until the dough comes together and looks shaggy. [Note: this recipe’s “shaggy” is not the same as the original no-knead bread’s “shaggy”—it’s not nearly as wet and unmanageable-looking.] Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for at least 8 hours, or up to 18 hours.
Lay a piece of parchment paper inside a 10-inch skillet and spray with vegetable oil spray. Turn dough out only a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand to form a smooth, round ball, 10 to 15 times. Shape the dough into a ball by pulling the edges into the middle with floured hands. Transfer the dough, seam-side down, to the prepared skillet.
Mist the dough with vegetable oil spray and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until doubled in size and the dough barely springs back when poked with a knuckle, about 2 hours.
About 30 minutes before baking, adjust an oven rack to the lowest position, place a large, covered Dutch oven on the rack, and heat the oven to 500 degrees.
Lightly flour the top of the dough and score it with a razor blade or sharp knife. Carefully remove the pot from the oven and remove the lid. Pick up the parchment and dough and carefully lower them into the hot pot, letting any excess parchment hang over the edge. Cover the pot.
Place the pot in the oven, reduce the temperature to 425 degrees, and bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to bake until the center of the loaf registers 210 degrees on an instant-read thermometer and the crust is deep golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes [my bread took about 40, perhaps because of the white whole wheat flour]. Carefully remove the bread from the pot, transfer to a wire rack, and cool to room temperature, about two hours [pshaw], before serving.