So, it turns out that “slow rising” in the refrigerator really means “no rising at all whatsoever, not a millimetre, no way no how, uh-HUH”, as far as I’m concerned.
But wait, that’s not the beginning. In the beginning there was dough, which happened when flour and a bit of yeast and some water were stirred together.
This time around, though, I thought I would let it rise in the fridge overnight, to see if a slow rising would really give rise to a better crumb. So the dough went into the fridge one Wednesday evening, and because I really don’t have the time to spare for baking bread in the morning on workdays, it remained there all the next day as well.
When I came back from work on Thursday evening, I peeked into the fridge and found the dough still sitting there in its bowl, giving an astonishingly good impression of a large unresponsive lump. Thinking that it perhaps needed more fridge time, I left it there overnight. Friday morning, it still hadn’t moved from its original position, so I took it out of the fridge and placed it in the conservatory with a towel over the top of the bowl. That Friday, of course, turned out surprisingly warm with the sun shining all day. In the closed conservatory, the temperature must have been quite high, so the dough had risen nicely, as it was meant to.
I did the smell test to make sure that the dough hadn’t turned from friendly yeasty to dangerously beasty, and found it had a nice sourdoughy sort of aroma. I tipped it out of the bowl and briefly kneaded it on a well-floured surface, greased a length of silicone paper, transferred the dough on to that and put the whole thing back in the bowl, paper and all, for the second rising. (Odd phrase, that... has the ring of something supernatural in a religious sort of way, doesn’t it?). Only, as it turned out, I’d forgotten we were going out, so I couldn’t leave the dough outside as I wouldn’t have the time to bake it later.
Back it went into the fridge.
The next day, Saturday, the dough was as I had left it the previous evening – cosy in the bowl, cocooned in its wrapping of silicone paper, and not even a hundredth of a millimetre higher. Evidently it resented being out in the cold.
So I took it out and put it back in the conservatory so that it could thaw out and begin the second uprising. (Yeah, if that sounds like a battle, at that point it was so a battle between me and the dough!) It stayed out there for 4-5 hours, but at least it had risen to the challenge. I gave it a second smell test, which it passed without much trouble. It seemed rather more sticky inside than the first time around, with the top surface being kind of dry, like a skin had formed on it.
By this time I had no idea what would happen to the dough if I baked it – would it explode in the oven? The only way to find out was to bake it.
I turned on the oven to 220C, and when it had reached the right temperature, I turned out the dough into my Pyrex casserole, pulling it off the silicone paper…
… and then realisation struck. The bowl was meant to have heated up in the oven before the dough was put into it to bake.
As Homer Simpson would say in this situation - D’oh! (oh yeah, pun intended)
Oh well. Too late to do anything about it now, so I popped the covered casserole into the heated oven and let the bread bake for 40 minutes (10 minutes extra to make up for the casserole not being pre-heated), then uncovered it and baked it for 20 minutes more – by which time the top of the bread was beginning to look close to being burnt. Hastily removed from the oven, the loaf looked allright.
Fifteen impatient minutes later, I tried to up-end the casserole to see if the bread had stuck to it or would fall out (as per the first time). It didn’t pop out. Uh-oh. That probably meant disaster.
I waited another 15 minutes, then tried to prise out the bread with a strong metal spatula… and to my surprise, I found that the bread had stuck to the bottom of the dish in only one bit. After some huffing and puffing, I managed to lever the loaf out whole, with only that little burnt bit left stuck to the casserole – which I thought was a miracle in itself.
And the best part? The bread tasted just as lovely as the first time, despite everything that had happened to the dough. So I’m here to confirm that it really IS quite difficult to ruin no-knead bread, no matter how disorganised you are as a baker. I will also add that the dough probably didn’t become beasty because of having been refrigerated off and on, rather than being outside for 3 days straight.
If any of you find yourself baking this bread in my patented method as described above, for heavens sake remember to grease the casserole dish before putting the dough in it (but ONLY if you’ve neglected to pre-heat your chosen baking dish). Otherwise be prepared to do battle with the casserole dish for possession of the baked bread because by golly it will resist you with every ounce of gluten it has.