Kneadless to say…

No-Knead Wholegrain Ploughman’s Loaf

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During the busy (i.e. non-vacation…i.e. most of the time) stages of my life, no-knead breads become my best friend — that, and ice cream.  Requiring only enough work to get those glutens going, no-knead breads are seriously a lazy carb-lover’s dream.  This recipe combines that no-knead simplicity with the deliciousness of a stuffed bread; that’s like combining Jay-Z and Beyonce (oh wait, that already happened #BlueIvy).
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Ploughman’s loaves go way back.  Like, waaaaaaay back.  They’re one of the most brilliant bread inventions I’ve ever heard of — not that you can really go wrong with a big, crusty loaf of bread; they’re essentially a handheld complete meal.  In its most basic form, a ploughman’s loaf was a homemade loaf, stuffed with meat and cheese, meant to be freshly baked in the morning and taken into the fields with the farm workers to serve as their manual-labor-fueling daytime meals.  As such, a ploughman’s loaf should be hearty in texture and durable in design.  Oh yeah, and it should taste good!

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Though a ploughman’s loaf is usually made in the traditional style (kneading, proving, punching-down, rising again, shaping, waiting, and baking), I wanted to see if a no-knead dough could achieve a satisfactory result.  In short, it did.

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As with any no-knead dough, you need to make sure you allow sufficient fermentation time to allow for flavor development.  The longer you let the dough rest, totally undisturbed, the more flavor you’ll get.  Though not a true sourdough bread, the lengthy rise time yields a subtle sourdough flavor, without going through all of the hassle of a sourdough starter.  When you remove the plastic wrap from your rested dough, you’ll immediately be smacked in the face with a strong whiff of yeasty fumes — a most welcome smell to any breadmaker!

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An important consideration when shaping a no-knead loaf is to ensure only minimal handling:  just enough action to incorporate the fillings but not so much as to knock out all of the air bubbles (i.e. yeast farts) that you just spent 2 days developing.  Preserving as much of the trapped air as possible keeps the crumb from becoming dense and unpalatable.  As described below, the filling of the bread should be performed by only a few swift strokes of a spatula, without the adding of additional flour.  The dough will be slack, wet, and tacky, but not straight-up sticky, so a light dusting of flour is added to the outside of the shaped loaf to facilitate transfer and add to the rustic appearance of the baked loaf.

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A sprinkling of cornmeal on the bottom of the skillet lends a truly bakery-esque underside to your loaf.  As a side note, the cornmeal that you find on the bottom of crusty breads and pizzeria pizzas actually serves a purpose!  In addition to adding a welcome crunch to the bottoms of these items, the cornmeal helps prevent the dough from sticking to the baking vessel (be it a hot cast iron skillet or baking stone) as it cooks, allowing for easy transfer to a cooling surface.  Allowing the baked bread (or pizza) to sit in its hot baking pan will lead to a sad and soggy bottom, since the released steam remains trapped underneath the bread, softening that crisp crust that you worked so hard to achieve.

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Just FYI, that gooeyness is melted swiss… not raw dough!
Though your goal during loaf-shaping is to make sure that your ham and cheese fillings are encased within the dough, I personally give myself bonus points for any cheese eruptions that occur during baking — a drizzle of molten cheese is always a welcome sight!

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No-Knead Wholegrain Ploughman’s Loaf

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour, plus a smidge more for dusting
1/4 cup stone ground cornmeal, plus an extra sprinkling for the bottom of your skillet
1 envelope active dry yeast (~2 1/4 teaspoons)
2 cups tepid water
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup mixed whole grains (I used a mix of bulgur wheat and black, red, & white quinoa), rinsed & drained – it’s okay if they’re not totally dry
12 thin slices deli ham
4 ounces swiss cheese, cut into small squares
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg yolk + 1 tablespoon water, lightly beaten together to make an egg wash
Sesame seeds & poppy seeds
In a small mixing bowl or large measuring cup, combine both flours and the cornmeal.  In a large mixing bowl, vigorously stir together the yeast, water, sugar, molasses, and half of the flour mixture, until smooth, ~1 minute.  Let stand 10 minutes (mixture should become bubbly).  Use a rubber spatula to fold in the remaining flour, grapeseed oil, salt, and rinsed mixed grains.  Continue scraping the sides of the bowl and folding it over on itself with the spatula for about a minute-and-a-half [I guess you could argue that this process is basically kneading, but, if it is, it’s still super easy!].  Coat a clean mixing bowl with 100% olive oil cooking spray, and transfer your wet, sticky dough to the greased bowl.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap, secure with a rubber band, and allow it to sit, undisturbed, at room temp, for 36-48 hours — the longer the better (especially if you like a slight sourdough taste)!
Place a large (9-10″) cast iron skillet in the oven, as it preheats to 435 degrees farenheit.  Meanwhile, uncover your rested dough, setting aside the plastic wrap, and run a rubber spatula around the bowl, freeing the dough from the sides of the bowl.  Sprinkle ~1/3 of the cheese chunks over the top of the dough (still in the bowl), and lay 4 slices of the ham over the cheese.  Punch down into the middle of the bowl once, then use the spatula to scrape under the dough, and fold one edge up, over, and down, pressing it into the middle of the bowl.  Sprinkle another 1/3 of the cheese over the top of the dough, and lay another 4 slices of ham over the cheese.  Rotate the bowl ~120 degrees, then, again,  use the spatula to scrape under the dough, and fold another edge up, over, and down, pressing it into the middle of the bowl.  Finally, sprinkle the remaining cheese, and lay the remaining ham over the dough.  And, once more,  rotate the bowl 120 degrees, then use the spatula to scrape under the dough, and fold another edge up, over, and down, pressing it into the middle of the bowl.  The end result should be a mound of dough that completely encases the cheese bits and ham (you may need to do some minor spatulating to make sure all that ham and cheese is nicely covered).  Lay the reserved plastic wrap out on a counter, and lightly dust it with a thin, even layer of whole wheat flour.  Run the rubber spatula around the bowl once to free the dough completely.  Invert the bowl over the floured plastic wrap, then pick up the corners of the plastic wrap to carefully transfer the inverted dough ball back into the bowl (still in its plastic hammock).  Cover bowl with a clean dish towel, and let be for 30 minutes.
Use an oven mitt to carefully remove the HOT skillet from the preheated oven, add the olive oil, and gently swirl the pan (using the oven mitt!) to evenly coat the bottom.  Sprinkle a generous layer of cornmeal over the bottom of the pan.  Use the plastic wrap corners to carefully lift the rested dough from the bowl and invert it into the hot skillet over the cornmeal (you may now throw out the plastic wrap – it has served its purposes).  Gently brush off any significant excess flour on the top of the loaf, leaving a thin, even layer.  Brush the middle top of the loaf with the egg wash, and sprinkle with sesame seeds and poppy seeds.  Use an oven mitt (or two) to transfer the skillet back to the oven.  Let bake for 30 minutes, tent with aluminum foil, then bake for an additional 25-30 minutes.  Bread should sound hollow when lightly tapped and feel crusty on the outside.  Remove skillet from oven, and immediately use the largest spatula you have to transfer the loaf to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes prior to slicing.  Serve warm to capitalize on that gooey cheesiness.

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