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Jan 20, 2009 06:22 AM

Calling all fellow would-be boulangers: painless, one-pot "Pain Pepin"

We always hear that baking is a strict science, which makes yeast baking a scary prospect for many otherwise capable cooks. A year ago I bought a larger dutch oven solely because I wanted to try Cooks Illustrated's version of the NYTimes/Lahey/Bittman no-knead bread, which came out spectacularly well. I then made a rye version, which was not as lovely because I should have added Vital Wheat Gluten. I bought the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day book but have yet to bake from it, largely because my fridge is always too full to fit the big container of dough!

Enter Jacques Pepin, whose mastery of cooking technique is unsurpassed. His take on easy yeast bread is the best yet - and takes maybe 2 minutes active work time. The flour, salt, water, yeast, and tepid water are stirred together in a 3-4 quart nonstick pot till combined - this takes just seconds. Put the lid on and let sit until doubled, about 90 minutes.
Stir for a couple of seconds to deflate, replace lid and either leave it till doubled or refrigerate overnight for a slower rise. Remove lid and bake at 425-450 for 40 minutes, then dump out the loaf and invert onto a cooling rack. I am unable to resist tweaking a recipe even if it's something with which I have no prior experience. So for my first attempt instead of 4 c white flour I used 1 unbleached white, 2 white whole wheat, 1 dark rye + 2 T vital wheat gluten. I kept the 1 t yeast and 2 t salt, added 1 T honey, and misread the recipe so instead of 2.5 cups water I had 1.5, which soaked in instantly so I added a half cup. The yeast was from a packet opened a year ago, and of course I didn't use the right amount of water - plus it's cold in the house, even near the heater. So no wonder that it took 7 hours from start to when the dough was ready for the oven! Recalling the CI recipe, I left the lid on for the first 20 min. The nonstick pot is old and doesn't really live up to its claims - between that and being shy a half cup of water, it's no surprise that some prying was needed to get the bread out. STILL -
success! Good crust and flavor. Yesterday, I sprayed the pot with Pam. I used 2.5 c of apple cider, 1.5 t yeast, 2 c unbleached flour, 1 c white whole wheat, 1/2 c old-fashioned oats, and 1/2 c steel-cut oats - the rest of the ingredients were the same as my first attempt. This time it rose faster and higher (4 hours from start to placing in oven) and plopped out of the pot without coaxing. This one came out even better. These breads do not have as impressive crusts as the dutch oven bread, but have fewer steps and don't require a 500 degree oven. Summer is not the time for a lot of hot-oven experimentation - maybe by then I'll be competently kneading and shaping elaborate loaves!

The obvious lesson is that as in other sciences, baking has room for, and forgives, quite a bit of innovation and error.

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  1. I have a friend, whom I consider to be a master bread baker, who says that rice flour on the bottom of the pot will make the bread release easily. I haven't tried it yet, but will the next time I make a no-knead bread in a dutch oven (mine stuck the first time).

    1 Reply
    1. re: roxlet

      The CI version has you put the dough in a parchment-lined bowl to rise, then lift it with the parchment and put the whole shebang into the dutch oven. The parchment, although it scorches, aids in lifting the finished loaf out.

    2. I saw that episode and got excited. I'm dough-phobic so can't begin to tell you what fear the word "yeast" has always struck in me. He was SO casual about it, wasn't he? None of that if it's too cold..., if it's too warm.... He just made bread. Thanks for reporting in.

      1 Reply
      1. re: c oliver

        Yeast baking is nothing to be afraid of if you understand a few basic principles. I very roughly measure yeast but liquids and flour must be measured carefully until you develop your sense of touch and baking experience. The biggest problem most people make is not checking the dates on their yeast and using water that is too hot. I never use water over 90° and I would suggest that you are generous with the yeast if the dates are questionable. A thermometer is necessary to bake, but these can be purchased for $10-15.

        I like to use filtered or bottled water because the chlorine in water will kill the yeast, but you can let tap water out for a few hours to let the chlorine evaporate.
        The amount of liquid that flour will absorb varies, even among the same brand and protein content and you will often need to adjust your amount to get the required consistency. I never add the salt to the yeast mixture until it has flour in it because it can kill the yeast if they are added together.

        Please take time to bake because it is a very rewarding experience and it tastes fantastic.

      2. I've been thinking of trying this, but a couple of things have held me back:
        - my 3 qt non-stick sauce pan does not have an oven proof handle
        - I don't have free space in the fridge for the overnight rise

        I may still experiment with my hard anodized dutch oven. Overall volume is right, just shallower.

        It may work with a shorter rise in a cool room, or overnight outside.

        1 Reply
        1. re: paulj

          Just baked a loaf, following Jacques's recipe (white flour etc). Mixed and baked in a 3qt hard anodized dutch oven. The resulting loaf had a lighter texture than my previous attempts at a non-knead bread, with a chew, but not particularly crisp top crust. But it stuck pretty bad to the sides and bottom corner of the pot. The bottom didn't stick as much as I feared.

        2. I am so glad you tried this! I have been wanting to ever since I saw JP do it on tv!
          thanks for reporting.

          1. Is there a link to this recipe on-line?

            9 Replies
            1. re: Deenso

              It is someplace on this site
              I don't recall whether it is a recipe, part of a full episode, or a short clip
              It's in episode 209, Fast Proof

              1. re: Deenso

                I never saw the show - someone mentioned it on CH and I googled for it but don't remember who had it. But this is all there is to it: Stir 4 c flour, 2tsp salt, 1 tsp yeast, and 2.5 cups tepid water together in a 3-4 qt nonstick pot. Cover and let sit on counter for 60-90 minutes or until doubled (took over 2 hrs in my case). Stir to deflate. Cover and put in fridge overnight for a slow rise, or leave it out until it doubles again. Bake uncovered 40 min in 425-450 oven then dump it out of the pot.

                1. re: greygarious

                  Greygarious, did cut it into slices or more like wedges like a cake?

                  1. re: cassoulady

                    I cut off 4 equal-length arcs around the perimeter, which left me with a square that could then be cut into uniform rectangular slices. The second loaf toasts well and held up in a sandwich. Since I'd had to pry the first one from the pot, it wasn't then cohesive enough for regular slices, so I buttered bigger hunks to have with soup. Not having a standard loaf shape is for me an acceptable trade-off for the convenience of using just one pot and a spoon. Today I am trying a half-recipe in a Corningware casserole - the original white rounded-off square shape with the blue flower.

                    1. re: greygarious

                      when you sprayed the Pam, did you do this before the initial mixing of the dough ingredients or did you take the dough out before it went into the oven, spray, and then replace the dough? I am going to try this tonight!

                      1. re: Cebca

                        Used the Pam in the pot before adding the ingredients and mixing them with a wooden spoon. The pot is a 10+ year-old black 3 qt Farberware thing that was heavily promoted on TV at the time as the "do anything" or mayble it was "do-it-all" pot. It is not very heavy, with a pretty thin non-stick coating that performed well at first but on which I no longer rely. It's shaped like a small pasta pot, with 2 metal handles, so it can go in the oven. I expected that the Pam would just get absorbed into the ingredients and not help release the bread, so I was pleasantly surprised that it worked so well. However, I just took the half-recipe, baked in the above-mentioned white Corningware casserole, pammed before adding the flour, etc., out of the oven and the bread is stuck into it like cement. I poked a knife down the sides and will start prying when it's a little cooler to the touch. It's going to break into pieces, I'm sure, but there's another container of soup in the freezer so it will still be usable. So I guess the old Farberware pot still had some nonstick ability. I really would like to be able to halve the recipe but in the 3qt pot it would only be about an inch thick, so next time I will try mixing everything together right in a nonstick loaf pan. It might not work as well, given the corners, but I'll hope my rubber spatula will get everything blended. The only hard thing about this recipe is that not everyone has the right pot for it!

                        1. re: greygarious

                          Yeah, thats my problem, the pot I am envisioning using is a large stainless pasta-style pot . . . how big of a diameter would you say yours is? Mine is, I am thinking, about 9". Too big?

                          1. re: Cebca

                            The Farberware pot I used is 8" in diameter which was fine with the 4 cups of flour, as long as you're okay with the bread being less than 3" high. 9" might be stretching it --- I never saw the TV show and can't watch the Pepin video since I have dial-up. Suggest you follow HaagenDasz' link below to see what Pepin used and the shape of the final product.

                            I got the latest effort out of the Corning pot more or less intact, but won't use it again. Aside from the sticking, the bottom half of the bread is a more compact crumb than the top. Probably this is due to the slowness of the ceramic to heat up - with the one-pot simplicity, you give up the quick spring of a preheated pan or baking stone.

                            1. re: greygarious

                              Based on your comments (and my 1 experience) I'm tempted to do the 2nd rise and bake in a 8" spring form cake pan.

                              With a 10" dutch oven, my 4cup loaf was 1" high at the rim, and 3" at the center.

                              I suspect Jacques was using a 7" diameter pot. I have a number of ones in the 2 - 3 qt size that about that, varying more in height than diameter.

                              Regarding cutting a round loaf: people who have been making the non-knead loafs in 5qt (or larger) dutch ovens have dealing with this. You can also buy round sourdough or rustic loaves. What you need is a nice bread knife, 9 or more inches long. It doesn't have to be expensive.