Saturday, February 10, 2007

Look what I did!

My friends, please allow me to present to you my first-ever successful loaf of bread.



I made it using Jim Lahey and Mark Bittman's revolutionary no-knead process. It was absurdly, ridiculously easy. I feel a little guilty.

You can see a video of the basic process here. At around 10:00 last night, I mixed together three cups of flour, 1 1/4 tsp. salt, and what should have been 1/4 tsp. yeast but because I wasn't concentrating ended up being an entire 7-gram package. By the time I discovered my mistake, it was too late, but I figured it would probably be ok. When you're making beer, you want to be able to pitch a good healthy colony of bugs in there, and making beer is just like making bread, except for the actual thing you're making. And a few other details. Anyway. I mixed in 1 5/8 cup of water and left the dough in its bowl, intending, after its prescribed 12- to 18-hour rise, to be able to bake this afternoon or tonight.

When I went to bed, it looked like this:



And when I woke up this morning at 6, all those yeasts had had a hell of a party, and my dough looked like this.



Bubbly. Glutenous. Yeah. As a result of my overpitching my yeast a little (well, ok, by a factor of 7), what should have taken 18 hours actually took 8. Thunderbirds were go. Per the recipe I turned it out on a floured surface and folded it over on itself, then let it rest for 15 minutes, attempted to "form it into a ball," failed (the dough was still a sticky, wobbly mass), and plonked it into a greased bowl for its second rise.

An hour and a half later, I started heating my oven to 450 degrees, with my 4-quart Corningware souffle dish inside. A half hour after that, I plopped my dough into the dish and put the lid on. A half hour after that, I took the lid off. And a half hour after that, I had the golden-brown, steamy-hot thing of beauty you see in the first pic.

I let it cool for a few hours on my improvised chopsticks-on-a-salad-plate cooling rack before opening the sucker up.



Beautiful, isn't it? I mean, it's not perfect; I wanted bigger holes and an airier texture. Presumably pitching the correct amount of yeast and allowing the long, slow first rise will make that happen. I'll do my next loaf the right way and report back. But still, this is some delicious stuff. I'm eating a hunk of it now, under a big slice of sharp cheddar, and it's the best thing I've tasted, at least as far as I can remember right now.

So as a neophyte baker, I'm wondering what I lose by making bread this way. I feel like a sculptor discovering all I have to do is leave a block of marble alone for a while and eventually it turns into the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Certainly this method has little of the homey sensuality you usually associate with making bread. There's none of the finicky issues with room temperature and humidity. The dough, when it's ready, feels nothing like a breast, which alone speaks for the superiority of the traditional method. I suppose if I wanted to make a refined pullman loaf or some other kind of bread I like less than the good crusty artisanal country stuff, I'd need to get more hands-on. But what I've got here is so good. And if I can delegate my work to a legion of hungry microscopic critters, what's not to like?

Anyway. I'm already planning my next loaf, which I'll make the right way. And for loaf #3, I may take a stab at a sourdough version.

12 comments:

I Love Bread said...

OMGZ that looks sooooooooooooo goooooooood. How about olive and rosemary bread next? Or onion? Or dill? Or garlic? Or some kind of tomato/olive oil situation? Or....

T said...

Ok, Rob--when we come down, we might just have to require that you acquiesce to Jenny's--um, I mean, "I Love Bread"'s--most ardent wishes. Ok, well, maybe not her *most* ardent wishes, but the ones that involve bread, anyway....

Mike said...

I've got lots of actual cooling racks. Can we work something out?

An Briosca Mor said...

What you may find when you use the smaller amount of yeast (and are thus able to let it sit for the 18-24 hours the recipe calls for without it expanding and eating your kitchen) is an increase in flavor. (As if there can be an increase in flavor for a bread that already tastes great...) I have found that when making doughs for pizzas, etc, that they often taste better if they sit in the fridge for a day or two before I press them out and bake them. I think this has something to do with the yeast feeding on the sugars in the flour, which you want it to do. (That's why most serious bread bakers don't put sugar or honey in their doughs. You don't want the yeast feeding on those, you want it to feed on the flour.) I think the process followed in this bread is sort of a modified sourdough effect. Indeed, I've seen some posts on the eGullet thread suggesting saving a bit of one dough to feed the next one - which is exactly what you do with sourdough, isn't it?

As for why the kneading of the dough into non-California breast consistency isn't needed here, I'm not clear on that myself. In classes at L'Academie, I've heard that what happens when you knead the dough is that the gluten strands get lined up. Maybe the long, slow rise of this dough causes the gluten strands to line up on their own. I've never been one to cook by trying to understand what's going on scientifically underneath what I'm doing. I cook a lot more by feel. Which maybe is why I've always been drawn to those perfect C cup individual pizza doughs...

Rob said...

Jenny, Tes, you've got a deal. But in the meantime, you two have just got to try this for yourselves. The return on the effort involved is simply huge.

I definitely want to do a kalamata olive bread soon, as well as one with hunks of dark chocolate and dried cherries. Oooh, yeah.

Mike -- let's talk!

An Briosca Mor said...

I just watched the video for the first time, and one big difference between what he does in the video and what the printed recipe prescribes is the amount of water. In the video, he uses 1-1/2 cups of water for three cups of flour, whereas the printed recipe calls for 1-5/8 cups of water. His dough is dry enough that it didn't stick to the towel, whereas mine was very sticky (as I've mentioned before). But it seems that one of the things you get with a wetter dough is bigger air bubbles. I got some huge bubbles in the pizza I made from this dough - almost enough to make up for not being able to cop a feel when I made the dough.

Rob said...

John, I look eagerly forward to my next loaf. If it tastes better than this wonderful thing I made today, then it's going to really rock.

I wonder how a traditional baker would make the kind of rough big-holed coarse-textured artisanal bread I like, since it's so effortlessly done via the Lahey/Bittman scheme. I can't believe we as a baking species have been pushing the river all these centuries. There's so much I don't know about all this. I should probably hie over to L'Academie myself.

Rob said...

FWIW I just found this on this sourdough faq site:

"I get the most moist dough and most irregular holes when I have the most over mature dough. Unfortunately, this also correlates with lower loaf volume and more slump. However, if you look at the loaves pictured in French Specialty and Decorative Breads (or whatever the title is, I've lent out my copy), you will see that the bread fermented with old dough is like that - fairly flat round loaves, and that wonderful texture I seem to get most often when something goes wrong."

Sara said...

Omigod. You could almost make this bread by accident. This is delicious bread you can make with two small children running around. I'm curious about the sourdough version. I made some sourdough from homemade starter recently, and though it was fun to have several million little pets to greet me on my kitchen counter, they were unpredictable bread makers. Results varied a lot and it was more than I had space in my brain for. I wonder what would happen if you combined some sourdough starter for flavor with dry yeast for consistency.

Rob said...

Only one way to find out! I think once I get my starter going again (in a container safe from hostile yogurt-making critters) I'm going to try a very simple sourdough adaptation of this recipe suggested by someone on eGullet: make a poolish using a couple of tablespoons of starter and a half-cup each of flour and water, then once that's working proceed with the rest of the recipe, adjusting the amount of flour and water accordingly.

As much of a headache as sourdough baking might be, I'm digging the idea of turning out bread using only flour and water and salt, and whatever microscopic beasts may be therein.

sara said...

ahh, but when it goes right homemade sourdough is the best thing there is. Chewy, tangy and uniquely flavored to your own kitchen. SO good.

orion said...

Yum!