I know what you’re thinking; you’re finally making pretty good no-knead bread but it’s getting a little boring. You’re wondering if there’s a way you can add flavors to your bread without changing the cooking method. I wondered the same thing. I’ve had much success incorporating various liquids and solids into my bread while maintaining a crisp crust and a light, airy center. As you might expect, there was a pretty steep learning curve. I’ve listed some of my hard-learned lessons below. If you’re using a method similar to mine, then these tips and tricks will work for you too. Check out this asiago cheese loaf:
Here’s my basic recipe: Chad Chandler’s (Almost) No-Knead Bread Recipe It looks complicated, but it’s really not. Once you bake a loaf of bread, you’ve essentially mastered and memorized the cooking process.
I’ve tried all kinds of techniques to infuse flavorful ingredients throughout the bread. I’m sure there are other (probably better) methods, but here are my personal tips and techniques I’ve picked up along the way:
- Don’t be a tight-ass and substitute another brand of flour. Buy the blue and white bag of King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour. It only costs a dollar more. You can use all-purpose flour when you do the kneading, but that’s the only time. The King Arthur brand is high-protein, so it absorbs more liquid. That means you can incorporate more flavor into your bread without gumming it up (by gummy, I mean moist and dense and doughy).
- It’s okay to use water to make the dough, but beer has more flavor. Start with a 50/50 ratio of beer and water. Once you’re making good bread, feel free to start experimenting with different flavored beers and the beer/water ratio.
- Beer doesn’t drastically alter the taste of the bread. It’s more like a subtle under-taste, if that makes any sense. I like to use Michelob Amberbock, Dundee’s Honey Brown, Budweiser and Bud Light’s new Golden Wheat. Really, it’s just an excuse for me to buy a six-pack of something different.
- I like wheat bread, but I never use more than ¾ cup of wheat flour in my recipes. I don’t know the science at work here, but it seems like more wheat = gummier bread.
- If I’m adding wet ingredients like honey, olive oil, vinegar, tahini, roasted garlic, etc… I add them when I mix the dough.
- If I’m adding solid ingredients like grated asiago cheese, fresh herbs, chopped olives, roasted sunflower seeds, etc… I add them when I knead the dough, just prior to its second rise.
- You have to add at least 4 big squeezes (4 tbsp?) of honey to the dough to be able to taste it, and even then it’s just a mild flavor.
- Dried herbs add little to no flavor to the bread. It just makes it look moldy.
- You can add 2 teaspoons of almost any wet ingredient (like apple cider vinegar or sherry) to the dough and barely taste it (if at all). So when you’re experimenting with new ingredients, start small. That way, if it doesn’t taste great, you don’t really ruin the loaf.
- There’s no reason to be afraid of kneading; you’re just stretching the bread dough. Fold the dough over and onto itself, flatten it, turn it a little, and repeat the process about 20 times. It’s more important to be consistent in the way you knead than to have the perfect form. Being consistent means you stretch all the dough evenly.
- I don’t put a lot of oil in the pot that I cook the bread in. I usually just drizzle in a little sunflower oil and rub it all over with a paper towel. From my experience, too much oil makes the bottom crust too hard.
- You MUST let the bread cool for at least an hour.
- You can control how hard the crust is by using foil when the bread cools. If you like really crispy crust, then let the bread cool alone on a rack. If you like your crust soft, let it cool wrapped in foil. I wrap mine in foil for 30 minutes and the open the foil for the last half hour.
My favorite bread is asiago cheese bread. To make it, you follow my basic dough recipe until the kneading step. To add flavor, you finely grate about 5 ounces of fresh asiago cheese. Next, lightly flour your working surface. Plop the dough onto the working surface and flatten it out into a large rectangle. Sprinkle about half of the cheese onto the dough:
Roll it up and repeat. Start folding the dough back onto itself. Each time you fold it, sprinkle in a little cheese on the dough. Also, as you add more flour to the working surface to keep the dough from sticking, add some cheese as well. That way you’re incorporating the cheese from two sides as you knead:
After a while, you shouldn’t be able to fold the dough anymore without seeing some cheese inside the dough (it should get very difficult to fold the dough anymore anyway):
Let the dough rise for a couple of hours in a well-oiled bowl:
When you drop the dough ball into the oven-warmed pot, sprinkle a tiny bit of cheese on the top. Finally, cook the bread like my recipe instructs. The same goes for any bread that has solid ingredients in the center.
Look at the crust on this asiago cheese bread:
And check out this honey-rosemary bread. To make it, I omitted the cider vinegar and garlic powder in the basic recipe and replaced them with 5 big squeezes of honey. Then I incorporated a little white sugar and some chopped, fresh rosemary during the kneading process. It came out great:
This is some garlic and herb bread:
I used about a quarter cup of chopped garlic. It roasts inside the bread, so the flavor is pretty mild. I also added a handful of chopped oregano, sage and parsley.
I store my bread in a large ziplock bag. When there are leftovers, I peel the crust off and cut the bread into cubes. Then I leave them on the counter overnight and in the morning I have flavorful croutons. I usually freeze them until I’m ready to make breadcrumbs.
I recently tossed them in the food processor to make breadcrumbs for some meatballs. They came out light and plump like panko, but with the infused flavors of garlic, cheese and herbs:
I soaked them in some buttermilk we had left over from my wife’s fresh batch of homemade butter and the meatballs came out tender and flavorful. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to the bland, grainy breadcrumbs that come in the round box.
Here’s another tip I should have mentioned.
About the pot
People have asked me which dutch oven I use. It’s a 4-quart enameled Chantal (a Les Creuset knock-off) pot that I received as a Christmas present one year. I can’t find this exact pot online, but this one from Lodge looks nearly identical. It’s from a trusted manufacturer and is much cheaper than most of the other brands. If you’re just getting into no-knead bread baking, I highly recommend it as a starting point in your culinary adventure.