Tuesday, March 8, 2011

No-Knead Bread, Five Years Late



Cast your mind back to 2006. Al Gore informed America that the planet was getting warmer as jeans grew skinnier and the Chinese River Dolphin was declared extinct. And who can forget sitting on the edge of their seat as Pope Benedict XVI issued his first encycylical?

But the number one thing I heard in '06 was "You have to see Little Miss Sunshine!!!" I never did. The number two thing I heard was "you have to try Mark Bittman's no-knead bread!" I did, five years later.



First off, you were all wrong. It wasn't Mark Bittman's no-knead bread, it was Jim Lahey's, and Bittman made that clear. But as I recently learned, Lahey is as good of a baker as Bittman is a publicist. This bread really is the best that you can make at home.

However the title of "no-knead" is somewhat misleading. No, you don't have to knead it, but you do have to fold it a few times, flour a work surface, and handle the dough, and that's kind of like kneading. There are other bread recipes where you do none of those things -- I'll be sharing one soon -- and so the fact that this bread isn't kneaded per se is not its most distinctive quality. Someone else has probably pointed this out in the past five years, but as you can tell, I'm a little behind the Times.

Instead of Mark Bittman's No-Knead Bread, as this recipe has become commonly known, a more accurate title would be Jim Lahey's Slow Rise, Low Yeast, Preheated Dutch Oven Bread. Because the technique is what sets this bread apart, and that's what gives it its perfect moisture, crumb and crust. My only problem was that our old bacon-seasoned cast iron Dutch oven (originally Elise's grandmother's) filled the kitchen with smoke as it heated. Almost makes me want to buy an enamel one. But who needs another hefty kitchen implement when you've got open windows, a damp bandanna tied like a bank robber, and an inhaler?



We made the bread as part of our new Valentine's Day tradition of having a meal at home made from whatever ingredients we want instead of eating out on what many chefs consider the worst night of the year. (In the above photo you can see Elise dramatically whisking the tinfoil off of the broccoli rabe.) Also on the menu were local oysters and defrosted chicken liver-and-Maker's Mark pâté from Christmas. Like Sylvester Stallone's character in Demolition Man, it survived the freeze quite well. In addition to baking the loaf of JLSRLYPDOB, I enacted another Bittman-influenced culinary fantasy: oven fries with pimenton aioli.



Lahey/Bittman's loaf is now available in regular, whole grain, and speedy. If you haven't tried it yet, you definitely should. Now if you'll excuse me, I have an endearing hipster dramedy to watch.

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11 comments:

Jeff B said...

Aaron...welcome to the no-knead crowd, or whatever you want to call it. I've found that a ceramic casserole dish is the best containment vessel. My cast iron dutch oven tended to burn the bottom. And Jim Lahey's book version of the recipe has different proportions of water...I've found I like that version better than the newspaper version. And I tend to go to half whole wheat/half white, and sometime mix in things like rosemary or cardamom. Definitely a remarkable loaf of bread, as long as you can think 24-30 hours ahead.

Anonymous said...

I've made no-knead bread, and love it, but this may be even easier:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/21/dining/211brex.html?_r=1

Being able to refrigerate the dough and just letting it rise a bit right before using it may be a lot more convenient. No more planning ahead.

Karen said...

delicious, I really should make bread at home, but we just made an iggy's run!

Sasha said...

That looks amazingly easy and really tasty!

Aaron Kagan said...

Thanks for all the tips -- I look forward to further futzing around with the recipe.

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bubblegum casting said...

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