Bread has a reputation for labour intensiveness, however the amount of hands-on time required is actually not that high. A measure and mix, 10 minutes kneading and popping in and out of the oven is all that’s required for the most part. In between, you can be getting on with giving the laundry a bump, or finishing your powerpoint presentation. Whatever floats your boat ow!
For a couple of years I have been experimenting with different bread recipes. I still find it miraculous that you can combine the four simple ingredients of yeast, flour, water and salt to create something everybody needs, likes and eats (we can talk gluten later). The properties of yeast are downright magical. The outcome is warm, fragrant and deeply satisfying in a Little House on the Prairie, back-to-basics way.
When I have the time, I enjoy the therapeutic exercise of kneading. The bread becomes warm, smooth and elastic and is a pleasure to handle. Certainly it is a nicer sensory experience than a trip to the supermarket, though I am certainly grateful to have the choice.
Although kneading is not hard, it does add an extra step to the process. Enter the ever expanding (geddit?) popularity of no-knead breads. The king is Jim Lahey’s method, originally profiled in the New York Times dining section (recipe below) and in his book “My Bread”.
The Jim Lahey method below requires less yeast, and a much longer rise, at least 12 hours and preferably 18 hours. 18 hours!! You can see where the extra planning ahead and added dedication to the craft come in. But his bread looks seriously good, he’s certainly a focussed looking baker and I’m curious.
A year or so later after Lahey exploded on to the blogosphere, Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois brought out the slightly more commercial ‘Artisan Bread in five minutes per day”, a seductive promise if ever there was one.
Both recommend baking the bread in a ‘dutch oven’, a lidded cast iron casserole, removing the lid for the final browning stage. Both also use a very wet sticky dough which can take a bit of getting used to handling.
The ‘Artisan in 5 minutes’ method only requires 2-3 hours to rise before baking. You can make a huge batch and keep it in a big tub in the fridge for up to two weeks, over which it will develop sourdough-like flavours, although you will see less of a rise the older the dough gets. When you need it, you can rip off a grapefruit sized chunk, shape it, rest it and bake it. It’s convenient, and the hands-on time is very limited. The results can be very good, a crisp chewy crust and nice fine crumb. I also often use this for homemade pizza bases.
On a recent trip to catering mecca Gilmours, for an entirely different reason, I over-optimistically bought 1.5kg of active dried yeast, thanks to Nico the chef and chief enabler! Key Nico phrase: “it’s just your money!”. Time to make good on that investment:
Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread – The reality:
So, in a retrospective attempt to justify that purchase I’m going to be having a bit of a play with the Jim Lahey method over the next two days or so. We are a pro-bread household with no current gluten issues so I’ve got three doughs on the go: White bread, wholegrain and rye.
Already the wholegrain seems to need more flour to reach the same consistency as the other mixes, and I added 1/2 a cup more.. I much prefer recipes which ask for weights rather than notoriously inaccurate cup measures. If I can track down the weights for the recipes below, I’ll post them
I’m also thinking of doing an artisan white bread mix at the same time for direct comparison. Obsessive, moi?
I’ll report back on my results. Wish me luck.
Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread – The recipe form the New York Times:
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.
1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.