Years ago, I received Nancy's Silverton's Breads from Le Brea Bakery as a gift. I was absolutely fascinated by this book because all of the recipes require a homemade sour dough starter. She gives clear, simple instructions for catching wild yeast from the air to create that starter. Initially, I was so excited to try this, but the thought of feeding and caring for the sponge for several weeks before I could actually start baking was daunting. I don't have many houseplants for a reason and really didn’t think I could successfully nurture a sour dough base with a reliable daily diet of flour and water (that would be after it had consumed the initial meal or two of crushed grapes). I paged through the beautiful photos, read all the recipes, but never made a single loaf of bread from that book.
However, a few times a month, I do make Jim Lahey's No Knead Bread. This bread is so simple. You mix bread, flour, salt and a tiny amount of yeast, then cover the bowl and let the dough rise overnight. Time and a piping hot oven do the work to create a flavorful bread. The crust is chewy, the interior is soft and the loaf is usually almost devoured in a single meal. Have I mentioned my picky kids are not picky about baked goods? I use some bread flour in place of all purpose recommended in his instructions; the results are amazing. You need to try his recipe!
I decided to modify the standard no-knead bread recipe with inspiration from the La Brea Bakery Cookbook. First up: Chocolate and Cherry Bread. I added cocoa and some sugar to the flours . Once the water had been incorporated and dough had formed, I stirred in chopped bittersweet chocolate and dried cherries. The dough rose overnight and, with the exception of a few burned pieces of chocolate on the outside of the bread, the finished loaf looked beautiful. Bob was my tester. He liked it, but thought it had a bit too much chocolate. I know that doesn’t sound possible, but his review stands. I had to agree: the recipe was not a home run, but if you interested in it, comment on this post and I'll be happy to publish it.
Yesterday, I tried another variation – dried cherries with pecans. First, I toasted the pecans until they were fragant. I chopped the nuts and added to the dough with dried cherries and a touch of cinnamon. I used a large skilled rather than a pot for this bread. I wanted to be able to slice it thinly so that I could turn some of the slices into bread crisps like they make at the Corner Bakery. After the final rise, I should have pushed the dried cherries into the dough before adding it to the skillet. A few pieces of dried fruit on the outside of the loaf burned and one cherry stuck to the bottom of the pan so the bread didn't release cleanly. Bob liked this bread much butter. It was delicious with a slather of Irish Butter and I bet it will taste even better hot and crispy from the toaster, spread with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar.
I’ve also decided that when I make No-Knead Bread, I’ll make two loaves. The bread comes together so easily and, as long as I’m going to heat the oven, I might as well use it. The second loaf will be cooled, wrapped in plastic and hidden in the freezer from the kids until ready to use.
- 1 cup pecans
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup bread flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon dry active yeast
- 1 3/4 cup water, room temperature
- 1 cup dried tart cherries
Preheat oven to 350. Toast pecan in a shallow baking pan (I used a square cake pan) for 10 minutes until toasted and fragrant. Cool and chop into large pieces.
Mix both flours, sugar, cinnamon, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Add water and stir with a spatula until all flour is moistened. Do not leave any lumps of flour. Mix in chopped nuts and dried cherries. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then with a clean dish towel. Leave at room temperature for 12-18 hours. This is a very forgiving dough. Mine rose for about 19 hours and still worked beautifully.
Cover top of dough with plastic wrap, then fold towel over dough. Leave at room temperature for about 2 hours, until doubled in size. My bread rested for about 2 1/2 hours before I put it into the oven.
45 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 450. Before you turn the oven on, place a covered skillet in the oven (I used an All Clad 3 quart saute pan). Once the pan has preheated, carefully remove it from the oven and transfer the dough to the hot pan. I peel back the towel as much as possible, then quickly turn it over to dump the dough into the pan. Wave away the cloud of flour billowing over your counter. Shake the pan to even out the dough, then put the lid on it. Make sure to keep your pot holders close by - the pan with be smoking hot! Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 30 minutes covered. Uncover bread and continue baking for another 15-20 minutes.
Check after 15 minutes - I left mine in for close to 20 and it was almost overdone. Cool for about an hour before slicing.