20 June 2014
No-knead bread: highly suitable for the Big Green Egg
Doctor Hans van Montfort and gestalt therapist and consciousness trainer Yvonne Coolen of the Centrum voor Integrale Gezondheidszorg [Centre for Integral Healthcare] became acquainted with this originally American invention a few years ago thanks to an article in the newspaper. It wasn’t so much the fact that the dough didn’t need to be kneaded that appealed to them as the process which, due to its health aspect, was unique. But what makes the difference? What makes the bread so healthy and why is kneading unnecessary?
Slow fermentation process
‘What makes this bread so interesting and healthy is the slow fermentation process that precedes baking,’ says Hans. ‘All grains and seeds contain phytic acid, a naturally occurring substance that the plants produce to repel insects. However, phytic acid hampers the absorption of a number of essential nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, calcium, vitamin C and D and a number of trace elements. This can then lead to nutritional deficiencies. As soon as the dough starts fermenting, the enzyme phytase, another naturally occurring substance, starts working. Phytase breaks down the phytic acid, but this takes time. Time which the preparation of no-knead bread takes, but the making of yeast bread doesn’t.
’ Yvonne: ‘Around 60 years ago, our daily bread was made on the basis of sourdough. Yeast bread was a luxury for Sundays and holidays. Sourdough also ferments slowly’.
More easily digestible
‘Commercially speaking it is logical to make yeast bread as the faster the process, the lower the costs. Furthermore, yeast bread is more accessible to the masses as sourdough and no-knead bread have a more distinct flavour. We don’t eat bread much, but if we do it’s either spelt bread or the no-knead bread made in the Big Green Egg. You do have to take your time though so that often means we only do so at the weekend’, explains Yvonne.
‘Another advantage of the fermentation process is that other enzymes break down proteins making no-knead bread more easily digestible. All these aspects make the bread so healthy’, says Hans.
‘It came naturally to bake the bread in the Big Green Egg. The charcoal lends the bread a completely different flavour in comparison to baking it in the oven. The heat, the atmosphere and the humidity in a Big Green Egg are very different after all. Basically the humidity in an electric oven is too low.’
Never use readymade bread mix
‘In line with the original recipe developed by baker Jim Lahey, we only use 1 g of yeast for 430 g of flour. Sometimes we also mix seeds and nuts through the dough. Because they also contain phytic acid on their surfaces, we first soak them in water for a number of hours to make the acid go away. Furthermore, we always utilise pure flour, never readymade bread mixes as many of these contain other ingredients such as egg powder, yeast, fat, powdered milk and L-cysteine, a bread improver made of hair.
In contrast to the original recipe we don’t bake the bread in a pan on the Big Green Egg, but place the dough directly on the Flat Baking Stone under a heat-proof bowl at a temperature of 260 °C. After half an hour we remove the bowl and bake the bread for an additional 20 minutes at 200 °C. This makes it flatter, but due to the direct contact with the Flat Baking Stone you end up with true floor bread.’
Form of slow cooking
Does this mean that no-knead bread is going to experience a massive rise in popularity soon? ‘It definitely has the potential to become a trend’, confirms Yvonne. ‘Luckily, increasing numbers of people are becoming aware of what nutrition can do for their health. Besides nutritional values, time also plays an important role in this.
At our health centre we have noticed that nowadays people are more prepared to spend time on their daily meals. This demands a switch in the way the day is structured. Making and baking the bread isn’t the problem, it’s more the amount of time it takes before you can eat it than anything else. Of course, you can do other things in the meantime. Basically it’s a form of slow cooking. Moreover, no-knead bread smells and tastes delicious. You can proudly serve it to a dinner party with some exquisite olive oil as it always generates conversation!’
The baker and the chef
No-knead bread therefore ties in perfectly with a healthy lifestyle and it’s delicious to eat as well. However, the question remains how it is possible to bake tasty, healthy bread without kneading at all. Bakker Jan Bronswijk of the Bronswijk Buyten Delft bakery and chef Leonard Elenbaas of restaurant Pure Passie studied the process.
‘Initially, I wasn’t very confident,’ admits Jan. ‘The gluten present is activated by adding liquid which breaks it down, making it stick together creating strands capable of trapping air. These strands form a flexible skeleton for the bread. This allows the dough to rise and lends good structure. Kneading accelerates this process however – if given sufficient time – the gluten in the bread behaves the same way.’
‘After mixing the ingredients you can, for example, put the dough in a bowl or bucket. It’s important to cover it as otherwise it will dry out. Then time does its magic and the dough will ferment and rise. For the best results, rest the bowl or bucket on a wooden surface not on the cold sink. If you want to bake multiple loaves you can make a single initial dough for the swelling phase then cut this into portions after allowing it to rise for a further 2 hours,’ explains Leonard.
‘The no-knead bread dough is damper than ordinary dough, it requires support. We bake ours in a cast-iron pan that retains heat well even if you dump the cold dough into it,’ emphasises the chef. ‘Furthermore, it is important to cover the pan at the start of the baking process. Otherwise the heat will make the water evaporate, immediately causing a crust to form which will hamper rising and may cause the loaf to tear or even burst.
Commercial bakeries use steam to combat this,’ adds Jan. ‘The yeast present in the dough needs time to do its work. The yeast works harder creating oven rising thanks to the heat of the Big Green Egg. At a certain point, the yeast dies off and end volume has been achieved. We only take the lid off the pan once the bread has taken shape so that a nice crust can develop.’
‘However, a good crust is no guarantee that the bread is done. If it hasn’t baked properly it will collapse. The gluten strands may be capable of holding air, but the bread’s foundations are only laid once the starch has hardened. This however only takes place once the core has reached a certain temperature. The temperature the bread is baked at and the cooking time with and without a lid provide good guidelines, in part to ensure that once the bread is done, the crust has the right colour.
If you are going to be baking smaller or larger loaves then the temperature and cooking times must be adjusted accordingly. A huge, heavy loaf simply requires more time to allow the heat to reach the core.’ Leonard: ‘To check whether the bread is done or not you can carefully remove it from the pan and tap the bottom. It should sound hollow. If it doesn’t, the bread is still too damp. If it isn’t done yet, simply put it back in the oven.’
‘The great thing about this recipe is that it provides for endless variation,’ Leonard adds. ‘For instance, if you replace the six-grain mix by flour, wheat flour or spelt flour, the remaining ingredients stay the same.’
Jan: ‘Moreover, it is ideal for baking in the Big Green Egg. All you have to do is mix the ingredients a day in advance, allow to swell the next day and then enjoy a drink while you bake it. You’ll then have delicious, freshly Big Green Egg-baked bread for the start of your dinner!’
Want to bake your own no-knead bread on the Big Green Egg? Give this recipe a try!