Sunday Morning Edition: Stecca No-Knead Baguettes

Remember what I said about the kitchen being as good a place as the gym to blow off steam?

Yeah, I take that back.

I had quite the adventure with my first shot at a no-knead bread. This Stecca is baked at 500 degrees and caused the smoke detectors to go off during most of the baking period. It’s a good thing I had the house to myself.

This bread was so worth it, though. I was skeptical before I took my first bite, but it was really, really awesome. Crisp and crunchy on the outside, chewy and porous on the inside, it is exactly what a baguette is supposed to be. It isn’t really a baguette, however. Stecca means “stick” in Italian, and sure enough this bread is thinner than a baguette (but just as tasty).

This recipe was shared with me by an old friend, one of my favorite horse-back riding teachers. We always had a bond, I think in part because I sincerely enjoyed her discipline, dressage. While most kids preferred jumping and high-speed activities, I preferred the controlled and poetic nature of dressage. I remember teaching my Arabian horse, Zanzibar, a routine to Harry Connick Jr. for a competition. I can’t remember which song, but I bet if I had the CD I could find it (maybe Autumn in New York? His version on the When Harry Met Sally soundtrack is more jazzy than classic versions).

Regardless, I like when life circles around and the riding teacher who taught you to appreciate highly disciplined riding techniques reappears to share innovative ways to bake bread. What a gift. This recipe is from Jim Lahey’s My Bread, a great book about his technique of baking bread with minimal kneading. The idea is that, instead of the conventional method of extensive mixing and kneading to create a strongly structured dough, you allow time to do the work.

Man, what a great metaphor. As an INFJ, I like things to be arranged and am more comfortable with a finished product than a work in-progress. Part of the draw of baking bread to me has always been that I can intercept the process by kneading and beating up the dough to give it life. With Jim Lahey’s method, I get to just wait and let time do that same trick that I would be doing by meddling. And, of course, the end result is as good or better, and all I had to do was wait. Now if only I can do that with the rest of life. 🙂

Stecca (No-Knead Baguette)
Makes 4 small baguettes

Ingredients:

3 cups (400 grams) bread flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon instant or other active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups (350 grams) cool 55-65F water
Additional flour for dusting
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
Cherry tomatoes and garlic cloves for garnish

Directions:

1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, table salt, sugar and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 10 to 18 hours (24 hours if you have a cold cold home.)

2. When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Fold the dough over itself two or three times and gently shape it into a somewhat flattened ball. Brush the surface of the dough with some of the olive oil and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of the coarse salt (which will gradually dissolve on the surface).

3. Grab a large bowl (large enough to hold the dough when it doubles in size. you could also use a large pot) and brush the insides of the bowl with olive oil. Gently place the dough, seam side down into the bowl. Cover bowl with a towel. Place in a warm draft free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise, pre-heat the oven to 500F, with a rack in the center. Oil a 13″ x 18″ x 1″ baking sheet.

5. Cut the dough into four equal pieces. Gently stretch each piece evenly into a long, thin, baguette shape approximately the length of the pan. Place on the pan, leaving about 1 inch between the loaves. Drizzle or brush olive oil on each loaf. Sprinkle sea salt or kosher salt lightly over each loaf. Press in cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced garlic, or other garnishes.

6. Bake For 15 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Cool on a pan for five minutes, then use a spatula to transfer the baguette to a rack to cool thoroughly.

Dig in!

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