A while back I watched the now famous Jim Lahey in his video with the New York Times, making his No Knead Bread. I’d heard rumors of this method on the internet, but the lack of a dutch oven made the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes method much more accessible. So, I’ve been making that for the past few months with decent success. I wasn’t entirely satisfied, longing for a better texture. So, when Lahey’s book My Bread arrived with the new library books, and I saw that not all of his recipes required a dutch oven, I snatched it up and brought it home.

His recipe for Stecca was the first one that I jumped on – a sort of Italian style baguette. So easy. So delicious. Honestly, the best bread that I have ever made.

After a few weeks of baking this recipe every week, I tried one of his sandwich recipes: Prosciutto, Mango, and fresh Basil. The flavor was stunning, totally balancing and needing no mayo or sauces at all – just the bread and the three fillings. Divine. The only change I made was to fry up the prosciutto until crisp.

Stecca
by Jim Lahey with Rick Flaste
from My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method
(W.W. Norton, 2009)
Makes 4 thin stick-shaped 18-inch loaves; 1 1/3 pounds

The name of this bread—stecca, or “stick” in Italian—is one I simply made up to describe it, since it has a narrow shape. It’s based on the faster-rising pizza bianca dough you’ll find in the pizza section and is stretched into such a narrow rope that it bakes rapidly. It is also baked on a baking sheet rather than in a pot. In this case, even though I get a good, brittle crust, it’s thinner than most of the other breads in this section. Because I wanted to use it for sandwiches, I was aiming for a lighter-colored, less-assertive loaf of bread to encase the filling ingredients without overpowering them. But the olive oil glaze and coarse salt make it very flavorful on its own.

Ingredients
3 cups bread flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon instant or other active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups cool (55 to 65°F) water
Additional flour for dusting
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Method
1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, table salt, sugar, and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.

2. When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Fold the dough over itself two or three times and gently shape it into a somewhat flattened ball. Brush the surface of the dough with some of the olive oil and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of the coarse salt (which will gradually dissolve on the surface).

3. Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 500°F (260°C), with a rack in the center. Oil a 13-by-18-by-1-inch baking sheet.

5. Cut the dough into quarters. Gently stretch each piece evenly into a stick shape approximately the length of the pan. Place on the pan, leaving at least 1 inch between the loaves. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt.

6. Bake the baguettes for 15 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then use a spatula to transfer the stecca to a rack to cool thoroughly.

Note: The baguettes may become a bit soggy in just a few hours because of the salt on the surface. If that happens, reheat the loaves in a hot oven until crisp.

Variation: Stecca Pomodori, all’Olive, o al’Aglio (Stecca with Tomatoes, Olives, or Garlic)
Push 10 cherry tomato halves, cut side up, 10 large pitted olives, or 10 lightly crushed garlic cloves into each formed stecca, taking care to space the additions evenly down the length of the dough. Brush each stecca with enough olive oil to create a thin coat of oil on the surface. For the tomato stecca, top each tomato half with a very thin slice of garlic and a couple of fresh thyme leaves, and sprinkle with salt. Sprinkle the garlic stecca with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Do not salt the olive stecca—it’s already salty from the olives.

Recipe © 2009 Jim Lahey. All rights reserved.

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