Lets talk about Jim Lahey's no knead bread. I have made it a few times in the past, and thought it was alright..but only recently realized how good it really is. As much as I love the entire bread making process - it can be a bit of a pain to do on a regular basis at home. So I have been playing around a bit with the no knead recipe because it is practical to make regularly at home. I want to see what I can do to improve on it. First things first - get a weight measurement rather than volume - which is what was printed in the New York Times. Easy enough. I think my third time making the bread I weighed everything and this is what I got (and have been using since).
472 g Bread Flour (I use King Arthur)
1 g Instant Yeast
8.3 g Salt (8 g is fine if you dont have a scale that measures less than 1g)
370 g Water (Filtered or Spring. 24 degrees C)
Simply to combine everything, let it ferment 18 hours, turn out onto a bench & fold a few times. Rest. Shape. Proof two hours - when you start proofing turn your oven on to 450 & put a dutch oven in it. Once the bread is ready to bake, put the dough into the hot dutch oven, cover and bake 30 mins. Remove cover and bake until done, 15 - 30 additional minutes.
With that down, what is the next step I can take to improve the bread?
Use a poolish.
There are...different interpretations of what a poolish is but in the interest of brevity and ease (remember I want a bread that is a breeze to make often) I would recommend using one that I learned from this man. What you do is start with your water in the container that you plan on fermenting your dough. Sprinkle your yeast on the surface of your water, and then add your flour. No need to mix, just let it sit as is. Put your salt in a small well on top of the flour. Let this sit at room temperature a minimum of 15 minutes - and then proceed as normal (mix everything together, ferment, and so on)
How much does this improve the flavor? Marginally, if at all. So what else is there?
This is what I was doing for a while, with consistently good results. You start as normal, mixing everything together and letting it ferment 18 hours. Immediately after folding your dough, that is after turning it out onto your bench, cut away a fist size piece and put it into a container. Keep this in your fridge until you are ready to make another batch. The next time you make the bread, add the (couple day) old dough to it. After the bulk fermentation, cut out another piece and save it for the following time you make bread. Keep doing this every time you make bread. I felt that this helped the flavor of the bread quite a bit.
And now the pain au levain, or pane levan, or whatever you want to call it. This is naturally risen bread. Made without the use of commercial yeasts. If you are looking to make this bead I can only imagine that you have a starter that you maintain. I keep mine refreshed at a 1:1:1 ratio. So if you want the bread you see in my picture...you should too. But its not that important. If you have a liquid starter or a firm starter...it will all work so long as it is alive and active.
Here is the recipe that I use - as you can see it is a modified version of the regular recipe.
475 g Flour
370 g H2O (24 C, filtered or spring)
8.3 g Salt
190 g Levain
Measure the water, add the levain and mix until it is pretty much dissolved. Then add the other ingredients and mix until they form a dough.
Put the dough in a large container & ferment for 18 hours. As you can see below, my dough had expanded to about 2.5 Q.
After fermenting 18 hours, turn your dough out onto a floured bench. Fold it a few times until it feels manageable. Let it rest, covered, for 15 minutes. Shape however your heart desires and proof for two hours - on a floured couche or silpat if your using the dutch oven. I use a banneton/bratform. It all depends on what shape youre going for. In the end you should bake it at 450 for close to an hour. Its a big loaf (if your not using the dutch oven you could divide it into two loaves).
This is what you get. Beautiful crust & crumb. Lovely sourdough flavor. Just a great loaf of bread. And easy enough to make every day.