05 May 2010

Bread. Yum.

A couple of weekends ago I decided to forgo spring cleaning my house in order to conquer my fear of making bread. I mean, life's short, right? I decided to use Jim Lahey's "revolutionary" no-knead method, and boy am I glad I did! Turns out, making crusty, wholesome, delicious, beautiful bread at home is well within reach of a novice, accident-prone baker like me. And the truth is, it requires so little active working time that I could have baked bread and cleaned my house too (um, I didn't).

I might be one of the last food-blog readers around to experiment with this fabulous recipe and technique. Back in 2006 Mark Bittman published an article on Lahey's method in his Minimalist column for the New York Times. You can check it out here: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/08mini.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1.

Since then it's made the rounds of the world wide web and gained many devoted fans. It's easy to see why the bread made such a splash. Instead of calling for the traditional multiple rounds of kneading and punching down the dough, this recipe relies on the power of a long fermentation process (about 12-18 hours) to do all the work. After about 14 or so hours, your mixture of yeast, flour, salt, water and whatever else you fancy turns into a bubbly dough-monster like so:

After turning it out onto a floured surface, all you do is tuck in the sides and form it into a roundish shape and then place it on a smooth dish towel covered in a generous layer of flour and/or corn meal or wheat bran to rise for a few more hours.

Meanwhile, you heat the oven and a covered cast-iron or ceramic pot really, really hot. I used my 5.5 qt. round le cruset dutch oven, outfitted with its new, steel, heat-proof knob (can you believe such a pricey item comes with a plastic knob!?!) and it worked great. You then turn the dough ball out of the towel straight into the hot pot (I ran into trouble here with my first loaf when the dough stuck to the towel--again, cover the towel generously with flour/meal/bran).

Then you bake it for a while covered and then uncovered and, viola! A perfect loaf! The only difficult part is waiting a full hour for the tempting thing to cool completely. According to Lahey, cutting into hot-out-of-the-oven bread is a really bad idea for retaining moisture content, etc. I believe him, and you should too.

In short, I think this method is tops! If you've been intimidated by bread-making at home like I was, I urge you to run to your local library or bookstore (or borrow it from a friend--thanks Lily!) to check out the whole book and its many different recipes. mmmm...think I'll go eat some toast.

PS: Have you experimented with no-knead bread? Please share your recipes and tips if you have!

No-Knead Basic Bread Recipe

see recipe in the Times:

The only differences between this recipe and the one I followed from Lahey's book are the following:
-use 1 1/3 cool water (might need an additional tablespoon or two if it seems too dry as mine did) instead of 1 5/8
-you can use any kind of dry yeast, not just instant
-the 15 minute resting period in step 2 can be completely skipped
-cook at 475 not 450
-i suggest about a 5 quart pot instead of the 6-8 quart listed in the Times--the dough spreads in a larger pot and makes a flatter loaf

***I also made a walnut and fig loaf from the book. This involved using the same basic recipe and procedure plus these changes to the dough:
-1/2 cup chopped dried figs
-1/2 cup chopped walnuts
-3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
-1/2 teaspoon yeast instead of 1/4
-1 1/2 cups cool water
-pinch black pepper


LaLaLaLeah said...

Lovely! Lovely, indeed! I can testify to the deliciousness of this hassle-free loafin': I had the pleasure of enjoying a fig and walnut version this past week. YUM.

amajoy said...

Looks amazing!!

Katie said...

I'm inspired!