For years I’ve dreamed of joining the ranks of those über-industrious people who bake their own bread. What’s more basic and earthy than bread?
And I’ve tried. However, my bread always comes out looking like a brick and tasting like the world’s worst energy bar (think: yeast-flavored PowerBar). Several people have offered to lend me their bread machines. However, in my (perhaps masochistic) opinion to use a bread machine would be like cheating. Sort of like bake-at-home pizza or Pillsbury crescent rolls. It just wouldn’t be the same. I want to buy/activate yeast. I want to wrap sticky dough in floury towels and watch it rise (…or not, as has been my experience). I want to feel like, well, a baker. So that one day, if my family were to find itself on the outer banks of some distant place, in the middle of a blizzard, I could raise a calm hand in the air and say, “Fear not, I will bake bread – warm, buttery, life-saving bread – and all will be right with the world again.” Plus – then I could check it off my list of “things to cook (from scratch) before I die.” Tell you more about that later…
So – with countless failed attempts in my wake, I’d all but given up on this (seemingly unattainable) baking fantasy. Then, it started to snow. And snow. And snow some more. Schools were cancelled. Trains and buses were halted. And life came to a slow, snow-covered stop. I had Spicy Moroccan Stew on the menu and was counting on a crusty, rustic loaf to accompany it.
So – in the spirit of “Drastic Times Call for Drastic Measures” – I decided to give it one more try. After a bit of searching, I discovered a recipe for a No-Knead Loaf that sounded interesting. First published (to my knowledge) by the Sullivan Street Bakery (in NYC) – the recipe uses a long, slow rising process to substitute the regular kneading process. But, most importantly, several have described the recipe as “so easy a 4-year-old can make it.” http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html
Perfect! I can’t knead, AND I am shadowed by a 4-year-old every waking hour of my life (plus a 2-year-old…which should increase my odds of success by another 50%!). Only four ingredients were needed – each of which I had in the house: flour, salt, water and ¼ tsp of yeast (which I keep around just to torment myself).
Granted, the process takes time (about 24 hours of time, in fact). But…given that this recipe had the ability to put an end to 3+ decades of bread-baking failure – it was worth the wait. My experience preparing/peeking-at/nurturing this bread would make an interesting story/post in&of itself – but I’ll save that nail-biting drama for another time.
For now, and with no further adieu, I would like to introduce you to my first (edible) loaf of HOMEMADE bread! <<cue the sound of trumpets & a chorus of Hallelujah>>
I should also point out that Steve loved this bread and called it "restaurant-quality." However, given that he has a history of eating PowerBars, his (culinary) opinions cannot be entirely trusted. Instead, I asked my super-foodie neighbor (an eastcoast native who tells it like it is, grows a gorgeous garden, makes some of the best cookies on the planet and whips up chicken liver pate like it’s beans-on-toast).
She – loved- it.
The recipe is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html. Give it a try.
Your big sis (aka The Baker)
5/1/12 UPDATE: I continue to bake this bread on a regular basis. Along the way, I’ve made tiny adaptions – which I thought I’d pass along:
- I make each loaf with a combination of all-purpose wheat/white flour (i.e. 1 cup wheat + 2 cups white; or 2 1/2 cups white, 1/2 cup wheat, etc.).
- I also use 1 1/2 cups of water (just a shade warmer than room temperature) versus 1 5/8 cups — simply because I don’t like measuring anything in 5/8th.
- I use 1 1/2tsp of kosher salt (versus 1 1/4tsp) and I dust the bread with white flour (not cornmeal or the like)
- After the bread has baked for 30 minutes, I leave the bread toasting (sans lid) anywhere from 4-8 minutes – depending on how crusty I want it. 4 minutes for sandwich bread, 8 minutes for dipping into olive oil, etc.
- I bake mine in a 4-quart Lodge Dutch Oven. Available online or at Target for $50 (a bargain compared to Le Creuset’s $300 variety)
- I keep an index card on my fridge that lists start & finish times for the bread. For example:
START 1pm – 7am knead – 9am bake – 9:30am FINISH
START 5pm – 11am knead – 1pm bake – 1:30 FINISH
START 7pm – 1pm knead – 3pm bake – 3:30 FINISH
START 9pm – 3pm knead – 5pm bake – 5:30 FINISH
(*”Start” indicated when dough is mixed, “finish” indicates when it’s ready to eat!)