The need to knead: How to make fantastic artisan style bread in your own kitchen

bread dough in bowlsFrom scratch: A no-knead bread experiment:

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.

jim lahey my breadAlthough 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.

Artisan bread coverA 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.

photo (5)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.

bread dough in bowlsAlready 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.

Appliance love

Rice CookerNo, not that sort of appliance.  This is a G rated post!

Ever had the experience where you encounter an item you had never considered buying, and then discovered that you can’t live without it?

Recently our 15 year old washing machine gave up the ghost. Along with the best price on the market for a Panasonic front loader, and very speedy service, the lovely folks at Magness Benrow sent us a complimentary Panasonic rice cooker (RRP$179).

Now, I’m not an appliance geek.  As far as I’m concerned, most things in the kitchen can be accomplished with a pot and a good knife.  I know how to cook rice. I’ve never considered a rice cooker.  And really, who wants another device cluttering up those valuable clear sufaces? So the unopened box sat on the table for two weeks as we considered flogging it on Trademe, before we were curious enough to try it.

And it was OK, it was rice, it was cooked, probably needed a little more water next time.  I did appreciate the lack of a big pot to clean and the absence of boiled over rice water on the stove.  Also the quantity was sufficient that we were able to save some for fried rice the next evening, always handy with three hungry boys.

The breakthough came when we noticed the ‘porridge’ setting and the very simple timer.  Our kids love porridge.  Often the first creaky words they utter in the morning re “is there porridge?”.  It’s warm, it’s satisfying, it’s low GI. It’s love in a bowl really.  The kids add their own milk and too much brown sugar (a large part of the appeal I’m sure). Sometimes we get a bit fancy and add sultanas, grated apple or a shake of cinnamon.

But who has time to stand there patiently stirring rolled oats when you need to be flapping about in your dressing gown, shrieking “you’re late, you’re late, have you brushed your teeth, what school trip? where’s your homework book?  You forgot your lunch, what is this sticky thing in your bag? Aaaaaaaarggghhhh!!!”.  And the pot, oh that pot full of cold stuck porridge which sits sullen and sticky in the sink all day because the porridge caught while you were flapping about.  Why is there never time to scrape the burned offering off the bottom?

Even assuming you’re more organised and less shouty than I am, you could still enjoy the feeling of gliding in to your kitchen to meet warm hearty porridge, perfectly timed and kept warm for you each morning.

The non-stick bowl just takes a wipe and replace.  Although convincing the family they shouldn’t be digging into it with metal spoons is something of an ongoing issue.  With the five cup model, there’s plenty for the four of us who like porridge and sufficient left over for our frequent visitors.  It’s easy enough for the seven year old to set it up with no drama.

An unexpected bonus is that Mr 12 likes to reheat porridge for a warm snack when he gets back from school.  It’s healthier, cheaper and more filling than the awful salty yellow two minute noodles he otherwise favours.  Win/Win.

Families are busy and chaotic places at the best of times (I’m reliably informed it’s not just ours). All those swirling pressures and agendas can add such a lot of tension, especially in the morning.  I’m always looking for ways to bring a little peace and ease to the fraught times, so I’m fully in favour of anything which helps us feel warm, cared for and happy in an efficient, low pressure way.  The Panasonic porridgemaker does just this. It has a permanent place on my bench. LOVE.

Is there an appliance you can’t live without?


Commitment, Goethe and a personal note of gratitude

joyful arumToday SmallActs was featured by the 100 Day Project Facebook page.  It’s a little thing perhaps, but significant to me, and as one of over 750 contributors, many of whom are outstandingly talented, I do feel quite humbled.

It’s one of a number of small but lovely developments which which have happened in the very brief interval since committing to the project and to writing this blog.   I feel happier, more energised, more ‘me’, more connected.  Is it an irony that it is only by concentrating on yourself you feel you have more to offer others?

This inspiring quotation, partly attributed to Goethe, (again with the Germans) speaks compellingly of the the luck, assistance and resources which come to a person who is committed:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.   

Go boldly friends.  Begin it now.

(PS If you’re lucky, one of those resources is a very patient WordPress mentor who is now looking askance at the monster he has created.  Thank you kind friend.)