Monday, November 13, 2006

A Domestic Sunday in November

Hi Everybody! (Hi, Dr. Nick!)

I am very pleased to report that this afternoon I have baked the best loaf of bread, by far, that I have ever made myself. This doesn’t mean much, as I have probably baked somewhere around 6 or 7 loaves of bread in my life (not counting around 9 or 10 sweet quickbreads like banana or walnut). However, this was really a great loaf of bread, as good or even better than most high-end bakery breads that I can get. I owe it all to an article in last Wednesday’s New York Times Food Section by Mark Bittman, and I urge any and all interested parties to read it. Mr. Bittman was invited to the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York where the head baker/owner, Mr. Lahey, showed him an unusual method for baking an old-world style rustic loaf with a rich, flavorful crumb riddled with holes and a fabulously crackling crust.
Two aspects of the method are particularly noteworthy: instead of kneading the bread to develop the gluten, it relies on a long (12-18 hour) rising with a very small amount of initial yeast. This apparently develops the gluten quite satisfactorily with the added benefit of imparting great flavor from the long fermentation. The second unusual aspect is in the baking: the dough, after a secondary two-hour rising, is dropped into a preheated pot (such as a dutch oven) and covered for the first half-hour of baking, where it develops the crackling crust by baking within it’s own steam, mimicking the process of those expensive professional steam-injected ovens.
This was one of those articles that really excited me, and I immediately decided I would try it soon, but of course there was a hefty amount of doubt I had in it really working out so well. I was wrong. This was a wonderful bread. My results differed a little, I think, due to some inexperience and one small mistake. The second rising happens on a well-floured cotton towel, and I lost a bit of the dough in transferring it to the pot. I think this caused my loaf to be a bit small and a bit flatter – more like a ciabatta instead of the boule pictured in the NYTimes article. But who cares? It was a delicious ciabatta, if that’s what it was. My other little mistake, and I urge you not to do this, is that I was impatient and cut into the bread when it was still too hot and still steaming – so the interior crumb was a bit moist and gummy. It was still delicious and the texture quickly improved, mostly, but you should wait for the bread to cool down before you cut it, or at least until it’s warm and not still hot. If you can see the steam coming off of it, wait. You can easily reheat it later.
This is ideal as a dinner bread, for dipping in olive oil or spreading with butter, for sopping up sauces and throwing into soups. The crumb is too well developed with holes of all sizes to be used easily as a sandwich bread. I do look forward, however, to experimenting with mixing in some whole wheat flour and maybe some other grains and flours – flax seed, wheat germ, wheat berries – see if I can get a slightly healthier bread that I would also consider appropriate for breakfast toasting.
The article is most interesting and the recipe is very clear and easy, but here is a brief paraphrasing:
3 cups flour
1 ½ tsp salt
¼ tsp active dry yeast
Mix these well dry, then add 1 5/8 cup water – mix together thoroughly.
Put in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, leave out in a warm dry place for 12-18 hours. (I went for 16). The dough should be bubbly and inflated. Turn out onto a floured board and fold over onto itself a couple of times (do not knead). Let rest, covered, for fifteen minutes. Flour a non-textured cotton towel and put the bread onto it, sprinkle with more flour on top and cover with another towel. Let rise for two hours. 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees with a 6 quart or so dutch oven inside it. When ready, pull out the oven and throw the dough into it. Cover and bake for thirty minutes, then uncover and bake for another 20-30 minutes, until well-browned on top (the browner the better, I say). Cool on a rack before cutting into it!

Enjoy! I wish I could share it with you right now.

1 comment:

Meghan said...

Hmmm, looks yummy. I haven't the foggiest idea how to make bread, so I'm suitably impressed. Perhaps I'll post a picture of my spaghetti tuna surprise! I'm sure you'd love it!