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.
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.