I have always loved Bread; I was one of those kids who would happily walk around the house eating it by the slice, but it would be many years before I had a desire or the confidence to try and make any on my own. In fact, I never attempted making bread until culinary school, and even under the guidance of my great instructors I had very little success. I had the tendency to over work the dough which would result in something that would scare even the hungriest bird away.
A few years ago I started hearing about the no-knead method of baking bread, but it wasn’t until cookbooks started popping up featuring various forms of the technique that I gave it a try. I tried a few different versions and was pleased, anything was better than my previous forays into bread making, but now we have a cookbook from “the” man who started it all, Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City.
After spending time in Italy studying art, Jim fell in love with European Artisan bread. After returning back to the United States he wanted to share his new found love of baking and Sullivan Street Bakery was born. Before long Jim’s bread was appearing in some of the finest restaurants in New York City. Next, all it took was one article from a very well-known food writer and New York Times Columnist (Mark Bittman) to make Jim and his no-knead method a household name.
My Bread is the book that fans of the no-knead method have been waiting for. In the book he shares with us in detail how he went from Italy to Soho. He also talks about the science behind the no-knead method; the miracle of bread making he calls it. The basic no-knead bread recipe is laid before you followed with a host of recipes utilizing this now time tested method. There is a whole section on the art of the sandwich as well as one on uses for stale bread (which is brilliant and very Frugal Foodie).
As soon as I could carve out two days where I wouldn’t be far from home I jumped in and starting making bread. You know what? This process is the best one yet; great for the inexperienced and experienced cooks alike. I’m nowhere near done going through all the recipes in this book, but the ones I’ve tried so far I can’t wait to make again. Pane all’ Olive (Olive Bread, see recipe below) is perfect on its own or part of any meal. The Stecca (see recipe below), which is made using a faster raising dough compared to the classic no-knead recipe, bakes quickly, and is the ideal sandwich bread. Soft, flavorful, and chewy everything you should be looking for in a great sandwich bread.
Once you see for yourself just how easy this method is, you will be baking bread week after week. And with such an easy fool-proof technique how could anyone ever go back to more traditional bread making methods?
Oh, before I forget, just a few things to note, the majority of the bread recipes require the use of a 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 quart dutch oven (Lodge or Le Creuset) for the bread to bake in. In addition, there are other recipes that call for Romertopf Clay Bakers, pizza stone/peel, and the use of a juice extractor. With the exception of the juice extractor most of these items are easy to find at any kitchenware store and relatively inexpensive. The clay bakers are only needed for two of the recipes. Pizza stones are very inexpensive (I think I paid about 10 bucks for mine) and Jim offers substitution techniques if you do not have a juice extractor. My advice is to start out with the classic no-knead bread in the Dutch oven and once you've mastered that, consider adding additional items when your ready to try something new and don't let the use of new kitchen items deter you, this is a great method for making real artisan bread.
Stecca - stick or small baguette
From My Bread by Jim Lahey. W.W. Norton, 2009.
The name of this bread - stecca, or "stick" in Italian - is one I simply made up to describe it, since it has a narrow shape. It's based on the faster-rising pizza bianca dough you'll find in the pizza section (see page 137) and is stretched into such a narrow rope that it bakes rapidly. It is also baked on a baking sheet rather than in a pot. In this case, even though I get a good, brittle crust, it's thinner than most of the other breads in this section. Because I wanted to use it for sandwiches (see Chapter Five), I was aiming for a lighter-colored, less-assertive loaf of bread to encase the filling ingredients without overpowering them. But the olive oil glaze and coarse salt make it very flavorful on its own.
Yield: 4 thin stick-shaped 18-inch loaves; 1/3 pound each
Equipment: A 13-by-18-inch rimmed baking sheet
|Ingredients ||Measure ||Weight |
|bread flour||3 cups||400 grams|
|table salt||1/2 teaspoon||3 grams|
|sugar||3/4 teaspoon ||3 grams|
|instant or other active dry yeast||1/4 teaspoon ||1 gram|
|cool (55 to 65 degrees F) water||1 1/2 cups ||350 grams|
|additional flour for dusting|| || |
|extra-virgin olive oil||1/4 cup ||about 60 grams |
|coarse sea salt||3/4 teaspoon||3 grams |
1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, table salt, sugar, and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.
2. When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Fold the dough over itself two or three times and gently shape it into a somewhat flattened ball. Brush the surface of the dough with some of the olive oil and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of the coarse salt (which will gradually dissolve on the surface).
3. Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.
4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F, with a rack in the center. Oil a 13-by-18-by-1-inch baking sheet.
5. Cut the dough into quarters. Gently stretch each piece evenly into a stick shape approximately the length of the pan. Place on the pan, leaving at least 1 inch between the loaves. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt.
6. Bake for 15 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then use a spatula to transfer the stecca to a rack to cool thoroughly.
Note: The stecca may become a bit soggy in just a few hours because of the salt on the surface. If that happens, reheat the loaves in a hot oven until crisp.
Variation: Stecca Pomodori, all'Olive, o al'Aglio (Stecca with Tomatoes, Olives, or Garlic)
Push 10 cherry tomato halves, cut side up, 10 large pitted olives, or 10 lightly crushed garlic cloves into each formed stecca, taking care to space the additions evenly down the length of the dough. Brush each stecca with enough olive oil to create a thin coat of oil on the surface. For the tomato stecca, top each tomato half with a very thin slice of garlic and a couple of fresh thyme leaves, and sprinkle with salt. Sprinkle the garlic stecca with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Do not salt the olive stecca-it's already salty from the olives.
Pane all'Olive - olive bread
From My Bread by Jim Lahey. W.W. Norton, 2009.
When I first opened Sullivan Street, with Roman baking in mind, this slightly pungent olive loaf immediately became my signature bread. As a result of the brine the olives release during baking, this recipe calls for no salt.
Yield: One 10-inch round loaf; 1½ pounds
Equipment: A 4½- to 5½-quart heavy pot
|Ingredients||Measure ||Weight |
|Bread flour||3 cups ||400 grams |
|roughly chopped, pitted olives (see Note)||about 1 1/2 cups||200 grams|
|instant or other active dry yeast||3/4 teaspoon ||3 grams|
|cool (55 to 65 degrees F) water||1 1/2 cups ||300 grams|
|wheat bran, cornmeal, or additional flour for dusting|| || |
1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, olives, and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.
2. When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula, lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.
3. Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.
4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F, with a rack in the lower third, and place a covered 41/2 - to 51/2 -quart heavy pot in the center of the rack.
5. Using pot holders, carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel and quickly but gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side up. (Use caution-the pot will be very hot; see photos, page 55.) Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.
6. Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes more. Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to gently lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly.
Note: For this loaf, any pitted olive will yield something worth eating. (You don't want to go to the trouble of pitting them yourself, because it is tedious and the results will not be as neat.) But what I turn to most often are pitted kalamata olives soaked in a pure salt brine-nothing else, just salt. A commonly available kalamata that I'm very fond of is made by Divina and can be found at many supermarkets and gourmet stores. You might think that because they're black they will change the color of the bread, but they won't, unless you carelessly dump some of the brine into the dough. Green Sicilian colossals, sometimes called "giant" olives, packed in pure salt brine, are another good option; they're often available at Italian food stores.
About My Bread
The secret to Jim Lahey's bread is slow-rise fermentation. As Jim shows in My Bread, with step-by-step instructions followed by step-by-step pictures, the amount of labor you put in amounts to 5 minutes: mix water, flour, yeast, and salt, and then let time work its magic-no kneading necessary. Wait 12 to 18 hours for the bread to rise, developing structure and flavor; then, after another short rise, briefly bake the bread in a covered cast-iron pot. The process couldn't be more simple, or the results more inspiring. My Bread devotes chapters to Jim's variations on the basic loaf, including an olive loaf, pecorino cheese bread, pancetta rolls, the classic Italian baguette (stirato), and the stunning bread stick studded with tomatoes, olives, or garlic (stecca). He gets even more creative with loaves like Peanut Butter and Jelly Bread, others that use juice instead of water, and his Irish Brown Bread, which calls for Guinness stout. For any leftover loaves, Jim includes what to do with old bread (try bread soup or a chocolate torte) and how to make truly special sandwiches.
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Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.