Friday, January 18, 2008

Baking Bread

This has nothing to do with writing. :)

I grew up, the child of a constant dieter. Food was either something evil that knocked you off your diet, or something tasteless you suffered through, for the sake of your diet. It's a wonder I have a sane relationship with food and eating.

When I got to college, I realized that I didn't know how to cook anything but Spanish rice and omelettes. So I picked the brains of a series of friends and roommates and slowly added dishes to my repertoire. One of the first dishes I learned to make was from the NYT 60 minute Gourmet--chicken and rice in a pot. (I still make this and still enjoy its taste and simplicity.) Then someone taught me how to bake bread.

Ahhh, home made bread. Alchemy. The ultimate combination of earth (flour), air (yeast), fire (oven), and water. And it creates something better than the elusive philosopher's stone: fresh bread to eat.

So every Sunday, I make several loaves for the following week. It's not even that time consuming--hand made bread takes about 20 minutes of work spread out over 4-5 hours.

Still, when I read about artisan bread in five minutes a day, I had to try.

I made my first loaf last night and it was ridiculously simple. So simple, I thought for sure it couldn't work. Well, it was a hit. Great crust, wonderful crumb. The bread was gone in one supper.

I made the low-yeast version and let the dough sit for 6 hours to try to develop the more intense tang of sourdough.

I don't think this no-knead bread will totally replace my typical breadmaking (there is something satisfying about kneeding and shaping bread) but it does make having a fresh loaf of bread on the table during a weeknight a simple proposition.


Addendum: My variation of the basic recipe

Here's a lower yeast variation of the "master recipe" from "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking," by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.

Yield: Four pounds of bread dough, enough for four round loaves.

3/4 tablespoon yeast

1 1/2 tablespoons coarse (kosher) salt

3 cups lukewarm water

6 1/2 cups flour, plus additional for dusting dough (I use a mix of 50% unbleached white flour and 50% king Arthur white whole wheat. Because whole wheat is heavier than white, I ended up only needing 5 1/2 cups of flour.)

Cornmeal, optional

1. Mix yeast and salt into the water in a large bowl or plastic container. Stir in the flour, mixing until there are no dry patches; the dough will be quite loose. Cover, but not airtight. Let the dough rise at room temperature 5+ hours.

2. Sprinkle a pizza peel with cornmeal to prevent the loaf from sticking *or* you can lay a piece of parchment paper down to use as a 'sling', so when you eventually move the dough, you won't have to handle it too much.

3. To bake immediately, sprinkle a little flour on the dough; cut off a grapefruit-sized piece. *Remember, this will make enough dough to bake 4 loaves. If you only need one, the rest of the dough will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.* Turn dough in floured hands to lightly stretch the surface until smooth and round on top and lumpy on the bottom. (The *less* you handle the dough, the better.) For a step by step with the authors, take a look at this video from the Mineapolis Star tribune.

4. Place the dough on the prepared surface (either your cornmeal-sprinkled pizza peel or on the *greased* parchment paper), let rise for 1-2 hours. (Since I used less yeast than the original master recipe, it required the longer rise, but I think that's a fair trade-off for the more complex flavor.)

5. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place a broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place a baking stone on the middle rack. (If you don't have a baking stone, just place the shaped loaf directly to rise on a good heavy baking sheet, either covered with greased parchment paper or sprinkled with cornmeal.)

6. When the rising time is finished and the oven reaches temperature, dust loaf with flour, slash top in a cross with a serrated knife. Slide loaf onto baking stone or, if using baking sheet, place on middle rack. Pour 1 cup water into the broiler pan; close oven door quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes; cool completely before cutting.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I'm Jeff Hertzberg, one of the co-authors of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Thanks for the reminder that our method works nicely in a lower-yeast version, and that whole grains work well. That KAF white whole wheat is a nice product. You can even push the yeast lower if people prefer the taste of really slow-risen stuff. Check out "Low-yeast version of our Master Recipe" on our website at (scroll way down).