Two of the things we missed when we moved to Mexico were good, whole grain bread and the wide selection of butter available in the U.S. The large supermercados do a decent job of offering multigrain bread, but they don’t have the chew and crust that make a great bread. In Mexico’s defense, bread is not part of the traditional diet. And butter options are limited. If you are an expat who is missing bread and butter a cut above what is generally available in Mexico, the answer is to make your own and it couldn’t be easier.
Jim Lahey’s popular no-knead bread recipe has made a huge impact in home kitchens. So easy, yet so good. If you have never baked bread before, you can make this one and feel proud of your accomplishment. My bread is a version of Jim’s, with whole wheat flour (harina integral) added, sometimes seeds, and yogurt instead of water for a sourdough-like tang. I’m not a real sourdough baker, so I pretend. An 18-hour rise allows for flavor and yeast to develop.
Jim Lahey’s recipe calls for baking in a cast iron pot with a lid, which I don’t have. I improvise by using an insulated cookie sheet and a stainless steel bowl. You could also use a Pyrex dish with a lid. By covering the bread, steam helps form a crusty crust. An 18-hour rising time allows the flavors to develop.
What Mexico lacks in butter, it more than makes up for with crema, very close to sourcream, but better. Like crème fraîche, crema is cultured with naturally occurring bacteria until it reaches a slight, acid flavor. As it turns out, crema makes an excellent cultured butter, with more depth and complexity than sweet cream butter. Crema, brought in from local ranches, is sold fresh in many of the small grocery stores, sometimes from a bucket in the cooler, usually in one-pint cartons. If you have a food processor, you can have butter in minutes. Well, add about 10 more minutes for washing the butter, but we’re talking again about great results for not much time and effort.
Easy, No-knead Bread
- 10.6 oz (300 grams) whole wheat flour
- 3.5 oz (100 grams) white flour
- 1.4 oz (40 grams) gluten flour
- 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
- 2 teaspoons fine salt
- 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) plain yogurt OR 1 1/3 cups (316 ml) water
- Mix all dry ingredients in a standing mixer bowl, add yogurt (or water) and mix using dough hook until a ball of dough forms. OR mix by hand in a large bowl until dough forms, adding more flour or more liquid as needed to form a sticky dough. You want dough that’s very sticky, but can still be handled.
- Cover well with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 18 hours.
- Place dough on well floured board and fold over on itself twice. Form a ball, with seam on bottom.
- Place dough on parchment paper and slash top of dough with a very sharp knife. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to almost double in size, about 1 hour, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.
- Preheat oven to 450 F/232 C. If using a cast iron pot with lid, pre-heat pot in the oven for 30 minutes. If using an insulated cookie sheet and stainless bowl, there is no need to pre-heat sheet and bowl.
- Using the parchment paper as a sling, carefully lower dough into the now very hot cast iron pot, leaving parchment paper in place, or place on baking sheet. If using baking sheet, cover with an overturned stainless steel bowl about 8″ across and 4″ deep, lined with a 3″ wide strip of parchment paper.
- Bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove lid or bowl and bake another 20 to 30 minutes, or until well browned and bottom sounds hollow when thumped.
- Allow to cool 1 hour before slicing.
- Process 4 cups (960 g) crema in food processor bowl until butter curds separate from the liquid. This may take as little as 30 seconds, or up to 2 or 3 minutes.
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer curds to bowl, and with the back of a spatula press out milky liquid until there is almost no more to press out. Save buttermilk for baking.
- Wash butter by adding 1/3 cup very cold water to bowl, and press water and butter together, washing out more milk from butter by pressing with a spatula. Repeat 3 or 4 more times, kneading butter with spatula until almost all liquid is removed.
- Knead in 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt. Refrigerate or freeze. This makes 640 grams of butter and 1 overflowing cup of buttermilk.
~ It is vital that yeast is fresh for any bread recipe. Store it in the freezer, where it will keep well for a year or more.
~ You can tell when bread has risen enough when you gently press a finger 1/2″ into the dough and an indentation remains.
~ The more sour the yogurt, the better approximation of a sourdough flavor.
~ In Mexico, gluten flour can often be found at bulk spice/seed/flour stores. La Abejita in Bucerias carries it. The large supermercados that carry imported foods sometimes have Bob’s Red Mill vital wheat gluten flour.
~ Sweet butter can be made the same way by using sweet, heavy cream. It may take longer in the food processor to become butter. Pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized cream will not have the same flavor. Avoid using cream with additives. Commercial brands of crema acidificada, like Lala or Alpura brand, will not make butter, as they have stabilizers added. These products are closer to commercial, American sour cream. Look for a pure cream product.
~ The buttermilk by-product can be used in any recipe calling for buttermilk. This is real buttermilk.
~ Other agitation methods can be used to make butter. A large jar sloshed by hand, a regular mixer, or a blender will make butter. If you use a jar, make sure it is large enough to allow the cream to move around vigorously.
~ For 4-ounce bars of butter, press 1 pound into a parchment-lined, rectangle container. When cold, cut into 4 bars, wrap and freeze.
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