6.29.2009

the bandwagon



I have never been one for the bandwagon.

I acquired my first cell phone only two years ago. I still do not have a Facebook page. In the early nineteen-nineties, the New Kids on the Block craze completely passed me by, and in the early two-thousands, despite a rather long pair of legs, I have managed to keep my jeans untucked from my leather boots. I don’t set out to be contrary. Back in junior high, when my friends started drinking coffee in order to “acquire a taste” for it, I did my best to join in. But the bitter brew never lived up to its aroma, and I had to abandon the cause. The trouble is, try as I might, if I don’t find something appealing, I just can’t fake it.

There’s a certain romance in dancing to the beat of a different drum. It seems honest and brave. But the downside is that, sometimes, I just plain miss out on things.

In 2006, Mark Bittman published Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread recipe in his New York Times column, The Minimalist. The result was a bread-baking revolution. Would-be bakers everywhere dusted off their cast iron pots, and produced the crusty, airy loaves that dreams are made of. When their cookware couldn’t take the heat, these apron-clad revolutionaries took to the streets, looting and pillaging, swiping Le Creuset knobs from sales displays with their still-floury hands.

Time and again, I heard about the virtues of Lahey’s no-knead bread. But frankly, it just never occurred to me to try it. Why, I reasoned, would I want a no-knead bread recipe, when I already have a bread recipe that I love? When I don’t mind the kneading one bit and, in fact, actually enjoy it? (Yes, I realize that this “reasoning” is glaringly empty of reason. I tend to be overly attached, clingy even, to my favorite tried-and-trues. I’m working on it. Just don’t ever make me part ways with Martha’s pâte brisée, okay?)

Years passed, and the most celebrated no-knead bread of all time simply fell off my radar.

dinner

A funny thing happens when you write a blog like this one. You go on a little about food, post a few photographs, and soon everyone on the planet has just the recipe for you. It’s my favorite perk of the job. Most people are content to suggest a recipe in an e-mail, to dictate it over the phone, or to scribble it down and slide it across the table once the plates have been cleared. A few months back, our friend, Rich, left a link to Lahey’s no-knead bread recipe in a comment right here on Sweet Amandine. But he didn’t stop there. Dear Rich went so far as to leave the country and lend us his lake house, to slip the printed recipe between the pages of the The Joy of Cooking on the counter and – here’s the kicker – to tuck a Le Creuset pot into the bottom drawer by the oven. Rich, do Martha and the kids know that your summer trip was just a ruse to get me into your kitchen, the stage you set so perfectly for the baking of Lahey’s no-knead bread? If not, your secret’s safe with me.

Four crackly-crusted loaves later, I am so securely on board, I have picked up a trumpet and joined the band. For the uninitiated (that is, assuming another soul exists who has not yet baked this bread), Lahey’s secret weapons are time and a covered heavy pot. Mixing together the dough takes only about a minute. No joke. Instead of kneading it to develop the gluten, a long fermentation process – 18 hours – does the work for you. The trick behind the crisp, golden crust is the moisture in the dough. It transforms the covered heavy pot into a miniature steam oven, which mimics the larger steam ovens in which professionals and artisans bake their loaves. Suddenly, that elusive shattery crust is not only within reach, it’s tumbling out of your very own oven.



It’s really something.

If you have held out this long, dear reader, and have not yet enjoyed this recipe, let me gently suggest that the time has come to have at it. Bake this bread. You’ll see. Some wagons are indeed worth the hop.

bread and cheese

No-Knead Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey at the Sullivan Street Bakery via Mark Bittman at New York Times

3 c. all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/4 t. instant yeast
1 1/4 t. salt
1 1/2 c. water
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed

1. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the water, and stir until blended. The dough will be shaggy, sticky, and loose. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Lahey says to let the dough rest for at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature (about 70 degrees). I have had the best results waiting 18-20 hours.

2. The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place the dough on it. Sprinkle the dough with a bit of flour. Grab the left and right sides of the dough and fold them into the center. Then do the same with the top and bottom sides of the dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap (you can use the same sheet of plastic that covered the bowl) and let rest for about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your work surface and your fingers, gently and quickly shape the dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth - it will stick) with flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal. (I use cornmeal.) Flip the dough onto the towel, seam side down. Dust the top with more cornmeal (or flour, or bran). Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for 2-3 hours. When it is ready, the dough will be more than double in size, and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least half an hour before the dough is ready, heat the oven to 450 degrees. Put a 4-6 quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic)* into the oven as it heats. When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven. Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. If it looks like a giant, ugly blob, you're right on track! Shake the pot once or twice if the dough is unevenly distributed. It will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes. Then, remove the lid and bake for another 20-30 minutes, until the loaf is beautifully browned. Turn out onto a rack, and enjoy the lovely crackling as it cools!

Yield: One 1 1/2 pound loaf.

*I read up a little about the issue of plastic knobs that may or may not be heat resistant to 450 degrees. Some people report that the plastic knobs on their Le Creuset pots have cracked, melted, or even exploded (!) in the very hot oven. Others claim to have had no trouble whatsoever. To play it safe, I simply unscrewed the plastic knob from the pot and stopped up the hole with foil. Then, I carefully slipped the top on and off with oven-mit-protected hands. Another option is to order a stainless steel replacement knob from Le Creuset. Or, find a heat-safe knob (drawer pulls, I've been told, do the trick) at your local hardware store.

24 comments:

Shannalee said...

I've never been much for the bandwagon, either, except when bloggers I love suggest something. You are inspiring - I may just have to give this another go, especially since I genuinely can't remember what the no-knead bread tasted like!

PS - No Facebook page? Really? Amazing!

Alexis said...

I keep meaning to try that recipe. Maybe today's the day...

Jess said...

Hi, Shannalee. I'm honored to be the one to (re)inspire the baking of this bread. Enjoy! And yes, it's true: no Facebook page. Though, after much convincing, I did finally make the leap onto Twitter. Baby steps.

Alexis - Have at it! I don't think you'll be disappointed.

tara said...

I didn't jump on the bandwagon right away either, again it never occurred to me to try the recipe. But when we did, it fast became our go-to crusty bread (albeit with a few slight modifications to suit our tastes). Two years later, it is still our fave. Drat. Now I want to bake some bread. Not a terrible thing, though. Yours looks gorgeous.

Oh, and I use a cocotte from Staub - it comes with a metal knob, so no worries there!

Adrienne said...

I made the no-knead bread once when the craze started, but never again since. I jumped on the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day wagon, and have yet hop off. I find that their dough is a little easier to work with (just a touch less gloopy) and once it's been in the fridge a week, it gets very sourdough-y. Maybe I'll give Jim Lahey's a try again this week, though, since it seems to have charmed you so :)

maybelles mom said...

I am not a good joiner and must admit that is why I didn't do this recipe--but you are making a good case for it.

megan said...

Oh! And it makes such a great airplane snack! I wish I had as good an excuse as not-a-joiner...I will begin the search for the right pot. Photos to follow (eventually).

ketchuptochutney said...

Hi Jess, I just found your blog through Smitten, then again from Food Loves Writing. Just read through your first few posts and knew I was adding it to my RSS ASAP. Keep up the amazing work! --Kate

Erin said...

I really enjoy making the Cooks Illustrated version which incorporates beer into the recipe. I think it has a better taste. Either way both make a lovely loaf of bread that disappears quickly. Very elegant shots! I wish I had a glass of Rose right now.

oneordinaryday said...

Great post and amazing-looking bread.

Jess said...

tara - When you have a moment, I would love to hear about these modifications of yours. Thanks for speaking up about the pot that works for you. Readers, take note!

Adrienne - I have heard wonderful things about the no-knead breads from the book you mention. With my newly found affection for no-knead bread, I may need (er, knead - ha!) to pick up a copy for myself, and soon.

maybelles mom - I say, go for it! I don't think you'll be disappointed.

megan - I'm so glad to hear that you enjoyed that last slice on your flight home. Though I would have preferred it had you still been here with us, eating it at our table. We miss you already!

ketchuptochutney - Hello! It's a pleasure to meet you. Thank you very much stopping by, and for leaving such a sweet note. Your encouragement and kindness really mean a lot. (And it's great hearing from a fellow Bostonian!)

Erin - Ooo, I'll have to try that. As for the photographs, it's hard to go wrong with this perfect Pacific NW light - even on a point and shoot!

oneordinaryday - Thank you kindly!

Rogue Unicorn said...

I've been meaning to try this recipe since Mark Bittman wrote about it. (Note to self- find heavy pot).
The cherry clafoutis, by the way, was great. My sister and I polished it off in under 24 hours. I may try it with plums next.

Jess said...

Hello, Rogue Unicorn. I have read that most covered pots will work, as long as they are resistant to very high heat. So no need to drop a huge sum of money.

Thank you for reporting back on the clafoutis. I'm happy to hear that I'm not the only one who cannot resist its allure. A fridge life of less than 24 hours is standard around here, too. Plum clafoutis sounds wonderful. I tried it with nectarines a few days ago, and it was delish.

Rosiecat said...

Let's do some math, shall we? 1 no-work bread recipe + 1 thesis to write = 1 perfect match. I may be a biologist, but even I can tell that sum is equivalent to one happy woman (and maybe even a completed thesis!). Hurray! I'm going to let you nudge me into the kitchen (again!) so that I don't starve this month.

Jen said...

I never understood the New Kids bandwagon either---to this day, no one believes me when I say that! Your photos are gorgeous, my dear. This bread looks crusty and perfect for a tear and slather of soft butter. I hope your vacation is relaxing and filled with sunshine. We're storming something awful in Boston today.

Jess said...

Rosiecat - I agree. This recipe is perfect for when you don't have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen, but want to treat yourself to something special after a long day's work. I think that a day of thesis writing definitely earns you a slice of warm crusty bread with butter. Maybe even two.

Jen - Thanks so much for your kind words and warm wishes. It sounds like Boston has been nothing but rain and clouds since I left. I guess I had better soak up these sunny blue skies out west while I can.

cha sen said...

I recently found your blog and enjoy reading it very much. Great to see good writing in a food blog.

Jess said...

Cha sen - Hello, and welcome! It means a lot to me that you like what you see here enough to leave a note and tell me so. Thank you.

Amy said...

Hey Jess, I'm also a blogger (Cambridge is my backyard) and, by coincidence, I also wrote an entry about Bittman/Lahey's No-Knead recipe. This morning.

Small world, and beautiful photography-- mine can't even hold a candle to yours! Check it: http://www.seedsandstring.com/2009/01/make-your-own-bread.html

Cheers and happy blogging,
Amy

Jess said...

Hi, Amy - It's a pleasure to meet a fellow Boston-area blogger. Thank you for writing such nice things about my photography, both here and on your blog! For me, muted lighting seems to be the key. Overcast days, the early hours of the morning, and just before dusk are my favorite times to shoot.

I did indeed check out your site. Your garden looks amazing!! I am truly impressed.

Perhaps I'll see you around the neighborhood?

Alexandra said...

This bread looks amazing!

Jess said...

Thanks, Alexandra.

AMy said...

Okay, I tried it... for Janet's birthday party. I even unscrewed the plastic knob on the dutch oven pot and filled the hole with a piece of aluminum foil. I did not get a good rise out of the dough, or perhaps my yeast was flat??? had a good taste, but no lift.
next time...

徵信社 said...

I love it! Very creative!That's actually really cool.
謝謝你的文章分享,請你有空到我

參觀,Thanks