On bread and bread-baking

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Long ago (wow, almost 20 years ago), I made the most sexist statement ever for me. Friends and I were discussing the division of labor in my household at the time: my boyfriend and I both loved to cook and bake, and the friends were wondering which of us had made the bread we were eating. “Bread,” I said, quite haughtily, “is too important to leave to a man to make.”

I’ve changed my tune since then. But I still make all the bread in this house.

If ever you wished to try to make bread on your own, I suggest you try something foolproof like Jim Lahey’s No Knead recipe. (Not, of course, because you’re a fool!) There is much to recommend this loaf, though, and its relative ease could be a springboard for you to try all other methods of bread-making. The path to being a great breadmaker is a path strewn with lots of rock-hard, barely edible loaves. Trust me on this. But this recipe can be a bit of a detour from this path.

I use a heavily modified form of Jim’s recipe about twice a week, and on weekends I use my regular recipe for sandwich loaves. The reason I modify Jim’s recipe is I find the normal one a touch flavorless on the second day; that, and I’m a whole-wheat baker…this recipe works best with refined (white) flour. But what’s great about it is the hot method of covered cooking. Even if you use a normal recipe for your bread, cooking the dough in a covered pot in a hot oven yields a nice crisp crust and a high crumb.

Other modifications: we tend to like a lot of “mixies” in our loaves (oats, ground flax seed, sunflower seeds, etc.) but the long rising time of the no-knead method just won’t work with mixies: the dough will just plain go bad. I get around this by adding more water to the recipe, letting it do its thing for at least 12 hours, and then I scrape the dough out onto the floured counter and I knead the mixies in, adding more flour as needed.

I also often use my sourdough starter for the loaf. Trace of Cricket Bread found a good modification to try to make that recipe work using your starter. It requires a bit more patience, but then, so does sourdough bread.

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And I suppose the last modification should also be mentioned: I like to knead. So I mix the ingredients thoroughly at first, and, when it’s time to turn the dough out for its second rise, I find I give it a smash and a flip or two or four just to make sure it’s springy.

But what’s great about his recipe is this: the amount of yeast you use is entirely dependent upon how much time you have (less yeast = more time to rise). So, let’s say you get the grand idea to have bread with dinner, but it’s morning, and you don’t have the 18-24 hours required for the loaf to proof. Simple. Double the yeast to 1/2 teaspoon or more, and…you might want to knead it a bit on its second rise, around 3:00. Heat the oven at 5:00, cook it from 5:30-6:15, and serve it with dinner at 7:00. Voila.

So! in the spirit of democracy, I hereby say that even those of us with Y chromosomes can make this bread, and they should.

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12 responses to “On bread and bread-baking

  1. I do not like to knead. Maybe that is my Y chromosome in action. Or should I say inaction?

  2. I like this post! I’ve come across a ton of bread posts lately (probably because there’s nothing else for gardeners to do during the winter …) and they are helping to demystify the process for me.

    I’m going to have to try that no-knead recipe. Thanks for the link, and thanks for the timetable. And, in light of your last comment, maybe I’ll pass the recipe along to Kelly and make him do it. Hmm.

  3. Oh, hey! More yeast! What a good, simple idea. I’ve often wanted to start dough in the morning to eat that night and somehow this simple solution never occurred to me…

  4. yes, this is one of mt goals this year. I will make some edible bread! During which, some will also be inedible….

  5. The compromise we’ve made, in our household, is that the Y chromosome holder gets to hand grind the wheat which the double X makes into bread. Although after reading your entry, he did murmur something about trying to make the No-Knead bread. In the interest of fairness, that may mean I will have to operate the grain mill. Hmmm!

  6. I also make bread about twice a week. I wouldn’t consider buying store-bought bread anymore.

    Another nice addition, particularly for wheat loves, is sprouted wheat berries and flax seed. I buy my sprout seeds from sproutpeople.com. The berries sprout in just a couple of days. Throw in about 3/4 cup along with about 2 tablespoons of flax seed and you’re really pumped up the nutrition and flavor.

    Robin at Bumblebee

  7. Ah, Trace, I know plenty of women who don’t like kneading, too. But yeah, this recipe works for the lot of you…but you’d need to buy commercial yeast first, of course 😉

    Meg, yeah, it might be because people can’t dig! And really, who wants to turn the oven on in the summer (though I do)? But sure, conscript Kelly in to trying this recipe.

    Emily, yeah, it’s all in the amount of yeast: you could plot it on a graph, how yeast and time affect rise. Exactly, though: I was likewise looking at finding a recipe that I could start at the very least that morning. I do this one instead when I am cleaning up after dinner; I will at least know we’ll have bread with dinner the next day.

    Frugalmom: I know how easy it is to be discouraged with bread-baking. I’d recommend going to your library and checking out the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book (you can also find them in resale bookstores) and reading the section on Starter Loaves. It goes through step by step how to make a traditional loaf, especially how to knead (and for how long). Most importantly, it gives you a whole list of diagnostics for what went wrong if it fails somehow! You’ll have to give it a try and tell us how you do.

    Nada, I love your grainmill. They don’t sell them in this country (or rather they do but I’d be paying twice what you did). I think you’ve reached an amiable compromise. I am still on the lookout for a mill, but frankly it’s somewhat down the list. I’m wondering if I would let Tom do the milling. Probably not, considering the whining I would hear. But maybe the kid, once she’s older…

    Ah, Robin, how could I forget sprouted mixies! Yes indeed. But the same thing applies with this recipe; you gotta add them 2 hrs before you cook the loaf. Thanks for the suggestion.

  8. Pingback: her able hands | Cramps, cramped, crampy, cramper, crap

  9. I LOVE making bread – and EATING it! This bread looks delicious!

  10. Look for your tempting recipe I noticed the link :use my regular recipe for sandwich loaves. has 2x http//

  11. EL- Thanks for the bread tips! The no knead recipe is the first bread I’ve made and I’m thrilled at the success of it but the long range planning doesn’t always work. Now we’ll have bread for dinner tonight.

  12. Kelly, did you try it with your ragu?

    Hayden, yeah, I swear the eating is what gets me making it. It’s a vehicle for butter!

    Eva, thanks! Must have been sleeping at the switch (it often happens)

    Katrina, hi! I hope you made it with the cute guy.

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