Trump countdown

Friday, March 1, 2013

March ABC challenge: No-Knead Chocolate-Cherry Pecan Bread

This title is a false advertisement, sort of.  Yes, the bread is no-knead, but that implies it's easy to make, and it's nothing of the sort.  The reason it's no-knead is because the dough is hardly stiffer than batter, and it was very hard to work with!

But first things first...

I modified the recipe only slightly. If I recall correctly, KA AP flour is higher in protein than grocery AP flour, about equivalent to grocery bread flour.  And with all the whole grain and add-ins, I thought it could use some extra gluten, so I used bread flour.  The quantity of salt seemed high to me, so initially I reduced the salt, but then decided that, because of the sweet add-ins, I might want that additional salt as balance.  The dough did taste VERY salty to me, but the end result was perfect (for American tastes).  Lastly, I was forced to use walnuts, as the bag of pecans I thought I had was evidently a hallucination.

I was baffled by the instructions to soak the fruit, nuts, and chocolate overnight.  I was sure I didn't want the nuts absorbing the moisture from the dough -- that ruins their texture.  I didn't know about the cherries -- did the recipe account for the amount of moisture the cherries would absorb?  Would it even be enough to make a difference?  Interestingly, the step-by-step instructions on their blog does NOT include the add-ins in the soaker!  I left them out of the soaker, adding them at the very end.

Soaker after some time in a warm oven.
The soaker was not very bubbly after 10 hours, but the house had been very cold overnight.  A couple hours in a warm oven improved the texture.

I was surprised that the only yeast in the recipe was the tiny 1/4 teaspoon in the soaker.  Again, the step-by-step differs, adding another 1/2 teaspoon in the main dough.  I thought surely this was necessary, especially due to the heaviness of the dough, and really debated whether to add it or not.  All the commenters seemed to have success without adding any additional yeast, so in the end I didn't either.

I ran into trouble, however, when it came time to add the add-ins.  There was strong advice to make sure nothing remained on the loaf surface, lest it burn.  Many commenters said they had luck rolling out the dough, spreading the add-ins around and then rolling it all up.  Yeah, well, this didn't work for me.  Something was sticking out, and when I poked it deeper into the dough I got a hole in that top layer that revealed a cavity layer full of the goodies.  They didn't seem well mixed in at all.  The dough was far too stiff to stir, so I decided kneading was necessary.  Mistake!  That just turned into a big, sticky mess!  (Another difference between the original recipe and the step-by-step was that she reduced the water by 1/4 cup because she felt the dough was too wet.)  Perhaps this is why the recipe called for putting the add-ins into the soaker, to avoid this problem.

My other issue with such a wet dough was how to bake it.  I don't have a bread crock.  All these recipes I've seen for crock pot baking, I wondered why anyone would bother.  Now I see why -- for the really wet doughs, it's necessary in order to support the loaf.  In the step-by-step, she uses a cake pan.  I didn't want the loaf to come out looking like cake.  Besides, that would ruin the artisan crust we're trying to achieve.  I used a pie tin, hoping the sloped sides would give enough support to create a nice loaf while still allowing for plenty of crust area.  Since several commenters had complained about the loaf sticking, I put parchment paper on the bottom.  I'm glad I did this, as the chocolate did stick badly to the tin where it made contact and took some scrubbing to get off.

Before the last rise.  This is not a good look for me.
I wasn't happy with how the loaf looked sitting in the pan.  There was no skin, and it was impossible to get all the add-ins pushed beneath the dough.  But by this time I was done fussing and had resigned myself to a dismal failure.  When it had finished the second rise, I placed the tin on a heated bread stone and covered it with a large metal bowl, then baked as directed.

In the end, I was very pleasantly surprised!  The texture is good -- crusty exterior and chewy interior with a somewhat open crumb -- and the taste is excellent!  The loaf spread more than I'd hoped and didn't get very high -- you really do need something with sides to support it.

Here's what I used:

3 2 cups all-purpose bread  flour
1/2 cup rye flour
1/2 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 3/4 cups cool water
3/4 cup chopped dried tart cherries
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans walnuts, toasted

Mix flours, salt, yeast, and water in a large bowl. Add cherries and chocolate chips. Stir well to make a very soft dough, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rest at room temperature overnight, or for at least 12 hours; the dough should be bubbly and puffy.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.   Roll out slightly and sprinkle on the toasted nuts.  Roll up tightly, then knead gently a few times to disperse the nuts.  Let it rest 15 minutes, then form it into a ball. Place it in a lightly greased bowl, smooth side down*. Cover and let rise at room temperature about 2 hours, until a slight indentation remains when poked with a finger.

During the last 30 minutes of rising, preheat the oven to 450°F and place a bread crock (or a heavy, 4- to 4 1/2-quart oven-safe pot) in the oven while it heats. When the dough has risen, remove the crock from the oven, and turn the dough out of the bowl and into the crock; the smooth side will be facing up*. Shake the crock gently to settle the dough, then cover with the lid and return to the oven.
Bake the bread for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and continue to bake another 30 to 40 minutes, until the bread is deep brown in color and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers about 205°F. Remove the crock from the oven, turn the bread onto a rack, and cool before slicing.

*Alternatively, you can line the bowl with parchment, and then transfer the dough, parchment and all, into the crock.  Leaving the smooth side down will produce some interesting crenelations on top that become nicely crusty.

Conclusion:  This is a great recipe that I will certainly make again, but I'll need to figure out an easier process and a preferred baking method.  I would also make it into two or three smaller loaves.  It's a large loaf, and after about 5 days it started to get a little tough (though still tasty).  With smaller loaves, I could freeze one.  Although the chocolate wasn't overwhelming by any means, I don't think it added anything and I'll be leaving it out in the future.  I'll also play with the add-ins, using perhaps apricots and/or raisins.  Maybe some citrus peel.  Lots of options here.

Recipe:  No-Knead Chocolate-Cherry Pecan Bread via King Arthur Flour


  1. I never even read that part about the raisins and chocolate being soaked... how do you soak chocolate, strange! Your bread looks very nice, I loved the flavour too.

    1. I thought it was strange as well, but I really think the reason they have you throw all the bits into the soaker is because they're so hard to get mixed in otherwise. Unless you have a mixer with a dough hook -- I guess that would work okay, but I don't have one. All my bread work has to be by hand.

    2. Okay.. I missed that part as well! I always feel a bit mystified by the no-knead varieties. Not a fan except for the soda bread types.

    3. I've never done one before. If they're supposed to be easier, I'd say that part is a fail. But I liked this bread!

  2. I'm on my second rise right now. Had a very hard time keeping the add in inside the dough. Impossible! Yours looks brown and lovely!

    1. Thanks, Karen. As you can see, I didn't completely succeed either. I felt like I was playing Whack-a-Mole! But nothing burned either. In the end, it all worked out. Can't wait to see everyone else's!

  3. Yours looks great! I wish I would have read this before I started mine. I have it during the first rise right now, and made it without looking at the step by step directions. I added in all of the chocolate, pecans and cherries already, so we will see how it turns out.

    1. I'm sure it turned out fine. :) Tons of people did it the way the recipe page described and they all worked out. It seems as though this bread is practically fool-proof. Waiting to see your post!

  4. I'm glad in the end you liked the taste of the bread after running into issues. Like you said, this recipe does seem fool-proof! Btw, it looks like the link to this post is wrong in the linky tool on the ABC blog. You might have to delete it and re-add it. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for the heads up about the link. I'm still trying to figure out this whole blogging thing. Even though I posted on March 1, it recorded it as February because that's the date I wrote it. I didn't know it would do that, so I "edited" it to bring it up to the March date, and then the link I'd posted at ABC didn't work. Too late to repost -- oh well.

  5. I'm glad that it turned out great! The dough is really very, very sticky, I just mixed in the fruits and nuts before the second rising and did not bother to shape the dough, just dump the whole mess in the cake pan! It turned out great! I love this bread, will definitely be baking this again!

    1. I know! I felt like Brer Rabbit with the tar baby. And I gave up on trying to shape the dough as well. Pretty much just plopped it in the pan. And it worked! Remarkable recipe. Bread happens!