Sunday, February 13, 2011

Need bread, don't knead it

I have a love-love relationship with bread: I love it, and I love to love it.

No, seriously. I would be a breaditarian if I could. (Turns out that man actually can't, however, exist on bread alone -- at least according to this. I can, however, happily mow through plenty of the stuff from Bread Alone. Or my very favorite ever: Sweet Earth from Ross' Bread, toasted and sprinkled with cinnamon and eaten after a bowl of overnight-soaked muesli. Put that in my belly!)

I love all things bread. Baguettes, banana bread, bagels, naan, cornbread, milky Asian white breads (why are they so tall?), focaccia, crusty whole-wheat hearth breads, gingerbread… oh dear Lord, life would be a nonstop carbfest if I could somehow manage to nutritionally swing it. (This, my friends, is why the sandwich was invented. Bread + actual life-preserving sustenance = Heaven.)

However, my bread-loving self suffered a blow this past year when I made the decision to cut out as many processed foods as possible. I mean, have you taken a gander at the ingredients list of your typical grocery-store-bought bread lately? What's with all the high-fructose whatever whatever in there, man?? You're breaking my heart!

Man has known for thousands of years, bread has four basic ingredients: Flour, salt, yeast, water. Keep your HFCS outta my g.d. toast, people!

That being the case, I was obviously left with no other choice but to finally bake my own. Nervousness be damned!

When I was little, my dad and I baked bread all the time. Baking bread, it turns out, is the perfect joint-custody-weekend-visit activity -- not only because it eats up a ton of what might otherwise be pretty awkward time together, but also because in the end you have something hot, fresh and delicious to show for it.

Sadly, however, I haven't baked bread since I was 11 years old. Standing with my dad in the kitchen, our hands pounding back a risen pile of dough, covered in flour from tip to tail, planning what dinner would go with the day's loaf. Well, thanks to the HFCS moral dilemma, I decided it was time to change that, to take back bread-baking. Those Sunday mornings kneading, kneading, kneading -- that was the most connected time I had with my father, the closest I came to understanding food as a kid, and, you know, in the meantime, fresh bread is effing awesome. And it makes your house smell incredible

Enter Jim Lahey, via Mark Bittman.

Yes, yes, yes -- I'm the absolute last person on earth to hop on the no-knead bread train, and I'm definitely picking up the caboose. And it's not that I'm opposed to kneading; it's honestly just that we don't really have the room for all that hard-core hands-on bread-manipulating action in our sneeze of a kitchen. I needed an alternative, and I hoped to have found it in Lahey's book, My Bread, spied by chance on the shelves of my local New York Public Library branch.

Boom. I knew at first glance that this could be just the game changer I was looking for. I was so excited to bake bread that I honestly couldn't fall asleep the first night after flipping through Lahey's book, what with all the inspirational talk of carb love and peanut-butter bread and and and… oh it's just all too steamy and delicious.

So, under-rested but hungry for some warm gluten products, I took my first stab at no-knead bread this weekend.

How'd I do??

Well, for starters, I didn't follow Mr. Lahey's advice to start with a plain white loaf -- I just had to be hippie-dippie and make it at least 1/3 whole-wheat flour, didn't I? I just can't with the white bread, can I? Jeez.

And I was also a bit up against it when it came to creating the oven-within-an-oven that he recommends (e.g. a Dutch oven or heavy-lidded pot). I just don't have a Dutch oven. I KNOW I NEED A DUTCH OVEN BUT THEY'RE EXPENSIVE, OKAY?? So I jury rigged something roughly enclosed using a glass mixing bowl and a plate. Some brainstorming necessary before next time.

In the end, the crust came out fantastic -- crispy, crunchy, chewy, dense. The crumb, obviously, could use a little work: It's a little dense for my tastes (could that be due to the whole-wheat flour, or to the baking? I followed through the complete 18hr and 2hr ferments, so I expected more bubbling), but the taste is nice, mild and nutty.

And now there's nothing left to do but cut some thick slices of this stuff, grill it up and top it with a poached egg… and, you know, plan my next loaf.

I. Can't. Wait.


  1. My father-in-law even has his own "no knead bread" webpage!

  2. @Mordicai: I love this! Thank you so much for sharing it.

  3. I am like you with bread, love it till the end! Especially with my favorite topping: zaatar and olive oil!

  4. @tasteofbeirut: Bread + olive oil = absolutely heaven.

  5. ah, excellent choice! bread is best when minutes old, not weeks. 41 ingredients for bread that tastes like paste? total control in your fist instead.


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