Saturday, December 09, 2006

Bread of the Century

Saturday, December 9, 2006
I am one of the very last to try the bread that has swept the nation by storm--you know the one I'm talking about: the no-knead popularized by Mark Bittman, the only bread recipe to make the "most e-mailed list." My excuse for being so late to jump on the bandwagon is that I had other things on my mind, like baking my 82nd bread. But today, with the challah being chistory, I was ready to join the parade.
How easy is it? Very. The bread baker himself, Jim Lahey, says a four-year-old could do it. Bittman says maybe an eight-year-old. I say they must both have precocious children, and I'd move it up to ten. But there is no kneading, no complicated shaping--all you really need is time.
I have noticed some bloggers commenting rather snootily that this is not a new technique at all; it's simply a variation of pain l'ancienne, which I had never heard of, although I decided it translated better as "the bread of the ancients" than as "old bread." I looked it up, and it's similar, although it relies more on cold than on time:

Pain à l'ancienne is not actually a type of bread, but rather a technique for making bread. The technique uses delayed-fermentation. Delayed-fermentation means that you make the dough then delay the fermentation by retarding the action of the yeast by chilling the dough. Ice water is used to mix the dough and then the fridge is used to hold the dough overnight. It is an easy method producing a deliciously different tasting result.I think that you could use the pain à l'ancienne method with any bread recipe, but I have not yet tested this theory.The recipe I used is from the book The Bread Baker's Apprentice which I can highly recommend for all aspects of bread baking - recipes, explanations and techniques.I made three pain à l'ancienne baguettes like this :Make a dough from 3 cups of stone-ground unbleached flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of dried yeast, and just over 1 cup of ice cold water. Add more water as you go if required to make a very soft almost sticky dough. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge overnight, or the equivalent.Take the bowl out of the fridge and leave at room temperature until it has doubled in size from the size it was when it went into the fridge.Gently transfer the dough to a generously floured bench, trying not to deflate the dough....
This recipe and description is from, who got the recipe from Peter Reinhart, who got it, I think, from some old guy in Provence. While I was researching pain l'ancienne, I ran across a book called No Need to Knead, by Suzanne Denny. Well, there probably is nothing new under the sun.
This no-knead bread calls for an 18-hour first rise and a two-hour second rise. 18 hours! This is difficult to plan, if you work during the day and sleep during the night. I did laborious calculations: if I stirred it up at 7:00 Friday morning, it would be done with its first rise at 1:00 a.m. and then ready to bake at 3:00 a.m. I didn't like the sound of that. If I mixed it at 6:00 Friday afternoon, after I got home from work, it would be done with its first rise at noon and ready for the oven around 2:00 p.m. Not bad, except that we were scheduled to meet some friends at a museum at 3:00 in the afternoon, and they were all coming back to our house for dinner. I solved the timing problem by leaving work early and bringing a file home with me so that, after mixing the bread, I could get back to the poor client whose brother was, to his total surprise, mixing up meth in the tool shed.
This timing worked perfectly. For me anyway.
Mark Bittman has written a second column on this bread, refining it a little, and Rose has also tackled it on her blog, so, being a late bread bloomer, I had the advantage of other people's tweaking. I used slightly less water, slightly more salt, and substituted whole-wheat flour for part of the bread flour. The dough did what it was supposed to do: it rose very, very slowly, and doubled into a bubbling mass about 18 hours later. (Even after 8 hours, it had started to bubble and had risen significantly. There's probably no magic to the 18-hour figure, but since I'd already calculated the 18-hour schedule, that's what I was going to use).
I used my LaCloche instead of the big metal pot Mark Bittman used, and I also used Rose's ice cubes in the bottom of the oven technique. I used wheat bran to cover the dough for its second rise, where it's swathed in cotton towels.
And the bread turned out to be very good. I didn't get the super big holes or the crispy, crackly crust that others have achieved. I got a good texture and a nice crust, but not the crackly one that I got in Rose's baguette recipe.

But I will absolutely make it again. How could you not make it again when it requires so little effort and so little skill and turns into a better loaf of bread than you can get at most bakeries?
I think it's the "so little skill" part that may be making serious bread-bakers have mixed feelings about this bread. After all, if your 10-year-old nephew can whip up a loaf of bread that rivals a professional baker's best loaf, how does that make the baker feel? Since I'm not a professional baker, I don't have to feel too sensitive. But I do have this to say to the 10-year-old: "Let's see you make croissants, sonny."


Anonymous said...

Marie, I followed the directions exactly and have made 4 faultless loaves now. I used a 15 protein Canadian flour. I have let it go 20 hours so I could sleep in, and it baked just as good. I haven't tried it with a bit of wholemeal yet but will have a go when my Canook flour has finished. Have you seen how many people have written on Rose's site about this bread? She amazes me that she answers all the questions. I mean the gal has to be busy!
I am going to make bagels for the first time for Christmas morning. Because I haven't got Rose's book yet, I am going to use a recipe from Bread Baker's Appretice. I feel rather nervous about them. I don't really know why either. Any hints or tips from you for the tricky bits?

evil cake lady said...

excellent last sentence!

Chubbypanda said...

I have never heard of this type of bread before. I learned something new today. Yay me!

I need to figure out the timing myself, but you've got me all psyched up to try it.

- Chubbypanda

kneadtobake said...

Glad to see your still baking bread, I also made the nyt no knead bread and it was very good, but I prefer the bread from the BB that can be used for sandwiches, ect. Also am glad you are continuing your blog, I love reading it.
Happy Holidays!

rpse said...

as usual you make me smile. and i'm not doing a lot of it these days waiting for my computer tech to come--hopefully on thurs night after his day job to fix my dead computer. meantime i've spent the morning learning a new skill--buy an extention cord to hook up the monitor to my laptop (he has the cables all bound together) and attaching an adaptor to turn my spare keyboard with ps2 connection to a usb...i feel sort of pleased with myself that i was able to do all this but also extremely irritated bc i'd rather be baking bread or answering the questions that are piling up on my blog. but i had to tune into your blog to see what you were up to and now i HAVE to respond just to tell you that the best results have been 100% harvest king flour in a cast iron 5 quart dutch oven 7 1/2 inches at the bottom. you get the best holes without the ww flour and the best shape with the smaller pot. i'll be posting the whole thing by early next week but if you can't wait to try it, 20 minutes cover on, 10 min cover off, 5 min. on unmolded onto a baking sheet with oven door proped ajar to keep the crust crist. all this at 450F. it softens a little on cooling but needs to as the crust is rock hard after this treatment and still crisp after cooling.
i'm really torn as to whether or not to add ww flour as i love the flavor it gives it but i love the really open texture without it and the flavor is still great. best lightly toasted and last night we had the best mock cubano sandwiches--actually not so mock--all that was missing was the pork shoulder roast.

Anonymous said...

Huh, still no comments, so I guess I will. I was away and unable to properly congratulate you on finishing your bread thesis work. I'm looking forward to your continued baking/renovation blog, it has been a really fun read. I had to laugh when you said you were a little bit nervous about trying the NYT bread, since the instructions were so minimal, they didn't even include which rack to bake it on! I think you have been officially "RLB'd". The flour covered scale was probably the first symptom.
I'm sure you've been over to RLB's site, there is a huge running commentary about this bread that is facinating!
Again, congrats on completion, and I too am impressed with your stick-to-it-tiveness. Happy holidays...what are you baking for it/them?
Chris in RI

breadbasketcase said...

The bagels were on my list of scary breads, but they really weren't scary at all. The shaping was the only thing that was hard, and you can just assure your family that any slightly odd shapes are because they're made by hand, not by machine. I'm going to make the Dutch Baby for Christmas breakfast--it's the best one I've ever had.

breadbasketcase said...

Chubby Panda,
Do try the no-knead bread--I think it has a lot of possibilities, although it's not the only bread you'd ever want. Apparently you can play around with the timing quite a bit.

breadbasketcase said...

I read your no-knead nirvana posting yesterday, and got excited again about trying some of your suggestions. I also told Jim that there were two new $200 bread-baking things that I wanted: the breadsteamer and the Lodge enameled cast iron Dutch oven. He said, "Too bad they won't fit in your stocking." I just bought some Harvest King flour yesterday, and I think I'll try the no-knead bread without adding any whole wheat flour this time, to see if I get bigger holes. I do think I'll add some durum flour because I always love the taste of the breads made with that.

breadbasketcase said...

Google now runs Blogspot, and they changed the way comments are posted. I have to log on and approve the comments before they show up, but I didn't know that.
I'm baking cookies for Christmas--I take a day off work and, along with two friends, bake what seems like several million cookies in one day. Next Wednesday is cookie day, but I haven't decided which ones to bake. So many cookies, so little time!

Anonymous said...
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Sven said...

Good Job! :)

breadbasketcase said...

Thanks for commenting--your comment made me go back and read this entry, and now I've decided it's time to make no-knead bread again this weekend.