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 Laughinggastronome.blogspot.com, 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."
Posted by Marie at 11:17 AM