Bread of Wonders, Bread of Delight

For my inaugural post on Dazzling Dear ::at home::, it seemed appropriate to focus on an item so basic that it is all but called the O.G. of human food-stuffs: bread!
Bread is the humblest of foods but one that most people don't seem to make on their own; instead, our bread comes mushy and pre-sliced, loaded with preservatives and weird sugars in plastic bags from the supermarket. Crusty, sculptural baguettes and brioches cost more money and spoil faster, making them unsuitable for most people as a daily bread, instead something to be enjoyed on a special occasion. The luxuriousness of this 'artisan' bread is immediately perceptible; it has an unclassifiably wonderful scent, a contrast in textures that delights the eye and mouth and even the ears when the bread is broken apart. Maybe the beauty and the specialized nature of this bread are reasons no one attempts to bake it at home; it seems an intimidating thing to master, like water-skiing.

Enter Mark Bittman, the baking hero of the proletariat home cooks. In 2006, for a NY Times column, he rather casually revealed in a brief youtube video the magic baking juju that we'd all been missing, adapted from the undoubtedly charitable Jim Lahey of Sullivan St. Bakery . He called it 'No-Knead Bread' and the internet community wept a million tears in passionate gratitude and baked that many and more loafs of the wonder-bread.

The bread he revealed yielded the maximum of beauty and deliciousness with the minimum amount of effort invested; this is my favorite combination in life. I bake this bread once a week for about $1.50 a pop. Unlike most baked goods, it is extremely forgiving, making it easy to customize and embellish to one's heart's content.

The recipe calls for only one 'special' tool, a dutch oven, but even this can be substituted for any sort of pot with a heat-resistant lid(if all else fails, foil works).

Note: confusion reigns re. what type of yeast to use. I use regular "active dry" because it is easier to find and works fine. If you want to use instant-rise (otherwise known as bread machine yeast), it will change the volume to a quarter (1/4) teaspoon. Simply a question of maths; instant yeast is more 'active' (I know, confusing, since 'Active Dry' yeast is less active), so use less of it.

(modified from the original Mark Bittman recipe for more-near-instant gratification)

makes 1 loaf

3 cups bread flour (All-purpose may be substituted.Bread flour is better.)
1 3/4 cup water
3/4 teaspoon regular yeast(not instant)
3 teaspoons vital wheat gluten
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. This can be done in the morning to have bread ready by dinnertime. Or, you know, do it in the middle of the night, my favorite time for bread making, fresh bread in the morning! The dough will be very wet and sticky, Mark Bittman calls it "shaggy." Cover with a towel or some plastic wrap and leave it in the warmest spot in your kitchen. I put it in the (turned off) oven with the oven light on where it gets nice and warm and there is no chance of knocking it over. It should get a 6 to 8-hour rise.

After the initial 6-8 hour rise, uncover your bowl and marvel at the proportions of your dough, which should resemble that gooey aerrated fungus creeper that trails across wet mulch in the summer. Don't know what I mean? Nevermind! It should be doubled in size, in other words, and a bit hole-y(that's your bread's crumb developing). Flour up your hands and shape the dough roughly into a ball, sprinkling with flour ever so often so it doesn't adhere to your hands. Fold the dough twice, like an envelope, and put the folds face down back into your bowl; cover with towel or plastic wrap again. Let proof (ie, sit) for about an hour.

Heat the oven to 450°F. Put a dutch oven in the oven to heat. After your dough's proofed for an hour and gotten another rise, dump your dough into the heated dutch oven. Before I dump, I brush it lightly with olive oil and re-flour lightly, but it's not necessary. You may have some sticking and unwillingness to exit the bowl from your dough, this is normal because it is still quite wet and sticky; pry, roll, or flour your hands and scoop it out. Don't worry if it looks a mess once it's in the dutch oven. Cover the pot with a lid and bake for 30 minutes. Remove lid and bake for another 15 minutes to let it brown. Let cool, and notice how the bread "sings" as it cools and the crust crackles and shatters.

More links:

Original Mark Bittman Column

The Kitchn Adapted Recipe

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you're doing this blog! I looked through your photographs on flickr & I really like them. I esp. like "Bounty."

    Much luv.
    Enjoy Montana.