No need for big effort to make these no-knead breads

April 07, 1993|By Chris Christensen | Chris Christensen,Knight-Ridder News Service

Most of us who love bread but don't bake our own fall into this category for two reasons.

One, we're intimidated by the kneading process.

Two, we lack the time.

Say hello to casserole breads.

"There's no kneading. You don't end up with flour all over the place and a messy counter top. And a bowl, a spoon and a measuring cup are all you need," said Beatrice Ojakangas, in a phone interview from Duluth, Minn.

Ms. Ojakangas, who was born on a farm in northern Minnesota and has been baking bread all of her life, is the author of "Great Whole Grain Breads" (Simon & Schuster, paperback, $13). She devoted an entire chapter of her book to casserole breads.

Quick and easy, these yeast breads are also a good way for beginners to ease into bread baking, Ms. Ojakangas says. Casserole breads offer the flavor of yeast breads, good texture, and an opportunity to experiment without investing an entire day in the process.

Start a casserole bread just before you put on a pot of homemade soup, and about the time the soup is ready, you'll have a loaf of warm bread to go with it.

Casserole breads have undoubtedly been around for a long time. Their most recent popularity was back in the early '70s, about the time women were getting back into the work force and looking for shortcuts in the kitchen. It was also a time when dill-flavored breads were popular. In fact, you'll find a recipe for dilly casserole bread in many cookbooks of that era.

I even found one in Bernard Clayton's "New Complete Book of Breads" (Simon & Schuster, 1987).

"With our busy lifestyles today, it makes sense to take another look at these breads," Mr. Clayton says.

Beth Hensperger, author of "Baking Bread: Old and New Traditions (Chronicle Books, $29.95), says she likes casserole breads for picnics, with sliced meats and fresh apples.

"I especially like walnut-onion herb bread when it's slightly warm, cut into wedges alongside a good cheese, such as a soft goat, Bel Paese or Fontina," she says.

Although Ms. Hensperger didn't include any casserole breads in her new book, she passed along her recipe, along with a sampling from Ms. Ojakangas' book, and Mr. Clayton's dilly casserole loaf.

The loaves are as varied as they are delicious. Mr. Clayton's and Ms. Ojakangas' are very similar in texture to regular breads. Ms. Hensperger's recipe, which has a higher liquid-to-flour ratio, produces a moister, more cakelike bread. Both types are very good, but you may have a preference.

I love the wonderful flavor of Ms. Hensperger's walnut-onion loaf, but because I prefer a more breadlike texture, I will cut back on the amount of liquid in the recipe the next time I make it.

That's what's fun about these breads. You can experiment with them -- add or subtract herbs, nuts and flavorings, or play around with the texture, once you get the hang of it. In one day, I made seven loaves.

All no-knead casserole breads have a higher proportion of liquid to flour, and most require just one rise, right in the casserole in which you plan to bake them. If you have the time, let them rise twice -- once in the mixing bowl, then again in the casserole. Two risings will produce a finer texture, and you'll still have a ready-to-eat loaf in less than three hours.

In her book, Ms. Ojakangas suggests baking them in handsome oven-proof dishes -- antique crockery, colorful enameled cast-iron, or oven-proof pottery bowls. Even coffee cans work.

"As gifts, you can present them right in their casseroles. Cover with plastic wrap or cellophane and tie a ribbon around the casserole. Presented this way, they also make great items for bake sales and bazaars," she says.

In casserole breads, whole-grain flavors are intensified by the moistness of the dough, and the additions of herbs, spices, nuts and seeds add even more interest.

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