I wanted to make some nice-looking crusty buns for a particular sandwich recipe I am developing, and I thought it would be great to use a no-knead recipe. Ciabatta, a chewy Italian bread, is made with a very wet dough, anyway, so it seemed perfectly suited to the no-knead method It turned out to be an interesting experiment!
I went to master bakers Jim Lahey and Peter Reinhart-- who better?Here's a video of them making ciabatta bread together. The recipe they used is located here. It's what I used, too, except that I don't have instant yeast, so I used 1/2 tsp. dry active baking yeast instead. I also doubled the recipe.
I made the dough as directed:
I let the dough rise at room temperature for 18 hours, and then I refrigerated it in a bowl with a snap lid.
The dough was pretty easy to handle. Then I cut it with a bench scraper/dough cutter into 8 more-or-less even peices. (Ciabatta doesn't have to look perfect!) and rose them at room temperature for 2 hours. Here they are before baking:
I wanted to use Jim Lahey's pot method of baking, to create a mini-brick-oven, as I do with my no-knead bread, but I thought it might be awkward with pots (although I will try it sometime, with several pots at once!). I don't have a large baking stone, and I was in kind of hurry as I prepared to bake them, so I didn't really think through the method I was going to use. I decided just to rise them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and to heat up my big ol' battered rectangular roasting pan (see the photo further on down) in the oven as it heated up to 475 degrees F, and use that as a "dome lid" over the sheet. Then at least part of it would be preheated!
This actually worked quite well. I baked them under the "dome" for 15 or 20 minutes (I forget the exact time now, and I lost my notes!), and then removed the "dome lid" and baked them uncovered for another 5 minutes or so, until they were golden brown. I didn't get a chance to take very detailed pictures, because DH was rushing me out the door and then everyone wanted to gobble them up, but here's the first batch before we ate them all:
We thought they were great and, as I said, they got gobbled up in no time!
I intended to make the second batch a few days later, but this has been a crazy couple of weeks, so I forgot about it pretty much for a week and a half (it was tucked away at the bottom of the fridge behind some veggies!)
So, yesterday I wanted to make tofu burgers (the juicy marinated frozen tofu ones from my first book, The Almost No-Fat Cookbook), so I took the dough out in the morning. It was kind of strange looking-- large bubbles all over the top, which was a little dry, but usable, I thought.
When I scooped the dough out onto a piece of well-floured baking parchment on my counter, I could see that the bottom of the dough was pretty runny and I wondered how I was going to handle this, and even wondered if it would work at all! I had read about folding no-knead dough for a wider crumb, but never bothered to try it before, so I used this method before cutting the dough in an attempt to make the very wet dough more manageable for cutting into buns. Here's a video that shows the technique.
(Unfortunately, my pictures of the dough at these early stages and folding it didn't turn out-- the lighting in the kitchen was bad and there were lots of shadows.)
The folding DID work to make the dough more manageable (with plenty of flour sprinkled here and there), and I am going to try using this method during the rising process next time. I moved the dough to the dining room table, where the light was better, to cut the dough into buns (12 smaller ones this time). The dough was "floppier" than the first batch.
I sprinkled the buns well with flour before rising, and again before baking.
This time I decided to raise the buns for their 2 hours on an upside-down cookie sheet, on cornmeal-dusted baking parchment, and I heated up my battered roasting pan "dome lid" and another heavy baking sheet in the oven.
My disreputable-looking roasting pan "dome lid" in the background
Then I placed the cookie sheets end-to-end and slid the parchment with the buns over onto the upside-down heated sheet:
which was whisked into the oven, covered with the "dome" and left alone to bake for 15 minutes. Here they are after that time, when I took the lid off:
Despite my fears they rose nicely! I baked them uncovered for another 10 minutes, then turned the oven off, cracked open the oven door and let them sit in there for 5 more minutes.
They smelled like sourdough bread, the crust was golden and crackly, the crumb had wide holes. They were a bit on the chewy side for the delicate tofu burgers, but very good!
So you really can leave no-knead dough in the refrigerator for 2 weeks! (You probably would not need the 18 hour first rise, though-- I think you could cut that down considerably if you intended to keep it refrigerated for at least a few days.) A nice combination of no-knead, refrigerator-rise, and pot-baked methods!