Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Time Dilation and the Baker's Craft (The Sullivan Street Bakery's No-Knead Bread)

It’s probably only a few days until we hear reports of the climatological and geological anomalies the earth has been experiencing ever since the planet mysteriously wobbled on its axis this week and then equally mysteriously did so again exactly 18 hours later. Science reporters will tell us the cause is unknown, but we know what happened, don’t we? It was all the food bloggers in the world hurtling toward their ovens to try the recipe for Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread from the Sullivan Street Bakery featured last Wednesday in Mark Bittman’s "Minimalist" column.

Well, you knew I'd have to try this. Thursday at 4:00 in the afternoon I mixed

3 cups of flour with
¼ teaspoon of yeast,
1 ¼ teaspoons of salt, and
1 5/8 cups of water.

I also added 3 teaspoons of vital wheat gluten, an ingredient I sometimes use when making breads with all-purpose flour. Perhaps this was my crime, but I suspect not. I think the most likely problem is that my apartment is much warmer than 70 degrees F (21C), the recipe’s recommended fermentation temperature. By 10:00 Friday morning, my dough was a sour suppurating liquid mess. Not sour as in nice, tangy sourdough sour, but sour as in really nasty.

I was prepared never to speak of this bread again, but then the bloggers started reporting back. The shattering crust! The slack crumb! The complete absence of any effort! I decided to gamble another 3 cups of flour, and try to bread again. This time, I watched the video (I wish it was just a bit snappier, and I would get rid of the incidental music).

I scooped the flour rather than spooning it into the measuring cups so that my three cups of flour came closer to sixteen ounces than the twelve ounces I had used the first time. The dough was bubbly after eight hours, so I went ahead and shaped the loaf ten hours ahead of schedule. I preheated the oven and my enormous oval Colombian clay pot to 500 degrees F (260C), and baked the bread 30 minutes covered, and 10 uncovered.

Well, everything you’ve heard is true. I had not been able to produce as crisp a crust, or as structured a crumb, since I was in alimentary school, where we used to pour pots of boiling water onto the floors of 600-degree ovens. Do not try this at home.

The soft dough will spread to fill the bottom of whatever vessel it occupies, so I will bake it in a smaller pot next time. My loaf came out seventeen inches long and less than two inches high, but that’s fine.

Lindy is rounding up the many and diverse blog-accounts of making this bread over at Toast. Jolly good show, Lindy.

5 Comments:

Anonymous lindy said...

When I got up this morning and saw your post, I had a vision of all of these breads on a long table, disappearing, into a vanishing point in the distance, as the sun rose. Food melodrama,

I made a second loaf yesterday. It was good timing-I can start it before going to sleep at night, and finish it at 3pm, when I get home from work. I think this bread is in my life for some time to come.

5:55 AM  
Blogger the chocolate lady said...

you are up betimes, lindy! There is something very moving to me about the harmonic bread convergence this recipe has precipitated. I sort of feel the same way about Thanksgiving, with reservations.

6:01 AM  
Blogger Kalyn said...

I'm having so much fun following this. I wrote about it for Blogher, but I guess you have to be a food blogger to be interested, not much response there, LOL.

8:43 AM  
Anonymous lindy said...

Eve-Thanksgiving has always been my favorite family and friends holiday.
My English cousin/friend is arriving tomorrow to visit, and to experience this non-English event for the first time.

She asked if it involved a gift exchange- to which I said, "Thankfully, no."

Hello Kalyn-Let me know if you try the bread.

4:35 PM  
Blogger the chocolate lady said...

kalyn, I am planning to try a whole-grain version soon.

lindy, hear hear.

9:31 AM  

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