“How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex” – Julia Child
In general, American bread culture leaves much to be desired. I have to go out of my way to find decent bread in the city in which I live. Perhaps this is all for the best since if it were at my disposal, I would live by bread alone. I worship all things bread: a baguette with the perfect crust to crumb ratio; spongy sweet dinner rolls; villanous viennoiseries (my weakness: the glorious pain au chocolat); pizza napolitana crust– if it is flour, yeast and water thrust into sacrificial fire, I’ll sing paeans about it, then eat it…ALL. The pain of the “pain” (the french word for bread) though, is that it negates much of my healthy eating philosophy (if even only because it’s so hard for me to appolonian in my cunsumption of it). So, I make it a point to indulge in bread sporadically, only. And when I do indulge, I want that bread to be the stuff of soliloquys and psalms; pain worthy of praise. Since I can’t rightly pop into Poilâne or some 16eme boulangerie whenever the temptation rears its head, and given that truly good bread is as readily available in my city as fish on the moon, I have decided to take a plunge into home breadmaking. (I would be remiss if I did not add that the H&F Bread Company and Alon’s are two Atlanta bakeries that make delicious breads).
Enter into the liturgy, Jim Lahey, bread diety and proprietor of NYC’s famous Sullivan Street Bakery. The culinary pontif, Mark Bittman, of the New York times has been no less than resounding in his adulation of Mr. Lahey, his bread and his technique. And so, I believe the Jim Lahey “No-Knead” bread method to be perfect for the genesis of my serious home breadmaking attempts. Lahey asserts:
“Good bread should be a masterpiece of contrast, crackling as you bite through the browned, malty-smelling crust, then deeply satisfying as you get to the meaty, chewy, crumb with its distinct wheaten, slightly acidic taste.”
Yes! There is a beautiful paradox in perfect bread and it is that very coexistence of diametrically opposed textures that is so sating.
Below, I detail Lahey’s recipe for his basic No-Knead bread. The book contains other bread recipes such as Pane Integrale (whole wheat bread), Chocolate Coconut bread, pizza recipes and even some bonus “stale bread” recipes for all that left over bread you are going to have. You will need a dutch oven to bake most of his breads, including this basic bread, and he details the science of the “oven within an oven” and how it works to create a crunchy crust and soft crumb. You will also need time: the first rise takes 12-18 hours and the second rise another 2 hours, so be sure to allot enough time for your bread to be ready when you need it.
I really enjoyed my first loaf. I took it to work this morning and my coworkers and I broke bread, literally, with honey and butter to sweeten and salt the deal. I should mention that the bread does seem to missing a bit of that really yeasty wonderfulness one would probably gain from a more involved and ardous breadmaking technique. That said, today’s loaf was a joy to make and to share and I am certain to make it many many more times to come, afterall it involves such minimal effort and yet the process is still very much poetry!
Jim Lahey’s Basic No-Knead Bread Recipe
Yield: One 10-inch round loaf; 1 1/4lbs
Equipment: A 4 1/2 – 5 1/2- quart dutch oven
400g (3 cups) bread flour
8g (1 1/4 tsps) salt
1g (1/4 tsps) instant or other active dry yeast
300g (1 1/3 cups) cool (55 – 65 degrees F) water
wheat bran, cornmeal, or additional flour for dusting
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt and yeast. Add the water and using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix until a wet, sticky dough forms. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the bowl sit at room temperature for 12 – 18 hours (until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough has doubled in size). it will look like this:
When the first fermentation is complete, dust a work surface with flour and use a rubber spatula to scrape the dough onto the board in one piece. Flour your hands and lift and tuck the edges of the dough towards the center to form a round ball
Flour a cotton or linen napkin and place the dough ball seam side down onto the napkin. Fold the napkin over dough to cover it and allow the dough to rise for 2 more hours
30 minutes before the second rise is done, preheat your oven to 475 degrees F and place the lided pot on a rack in the lower third of the oven
Removed the heated pot from the oven after 30 minutes, uncover it and carefully invert the dough into the pot (seam side up) after dusting the dough with flour.
Cover the pot and bake for 30 mins. Uncover and bake until bread is a deep chestnut colour (15 -30 more minutes).
Using potholders, lift the bread out of the pot and let it cool thoroughly on a rack for at least an hour. Do not slice into the bread until it has cooled.
Enjoy this traipse through gustatory heaven and please do share your thoughts! Bon Apetit!