Thursday, August 07, 2008

Love Great Bread? Of Course! Get This!

I love making homemade bread. So much of the whole process just connects on a deep level. It feels great, from the smell of the yeast getting started, to the feel of kneading dough, to the incomparable sensation of biting into a slice of bread still barely warm from the oven. However, for something that is so simple (just flour, water, salt, and yeast), fresh home-made bread is an absolute pain in the ass to make. Even though you don't have to proof the yeast (thanks to quick-rise yeasts) and knead the dough for 15 minutes (thanks to the trusty Kitchenaid on the counter), the dough takes quite a bit of babysitting, and somehow the entire kitchen ends up covered in flour.

In November of 2006, cookbook author Mark Bittman released a recipe for something new called No-Knead Bread. In normal bread, kneading is what develops gluten, which gives the bread its structure. In No-Knead Bread, kneading is replaced by a very wet dough (87 percent of the flour's weight in water; a traditional recipe is closer to 55 percent) and a very long rest (at least 18 hours in the fridge). There is an Achilles's heel to the No-Knead Bread, and that is that you have to start the bread 18 to 24 hours before you actually want the bread.  What's a bread lover to do?

Enter Dr. Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François1, authors of the new book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. He's a bread-loving physician, she's a CIA2-trained baker and pastry chef.  Boy, that sounds like a movie waiting to happen, doesn't it?  They realized that a wet dough not only doesn't require kneading, but also keeps for a good long time in the refrigerator... up to two weeks.  Now all you have to do is mix up the dough, let it rise, and then toss it in the fridge.  When you're ready for bread, you just shape the loaf, let it rise, and put it in the oven.  That's it.  The only part of your kitchen that gets dirty is a spoon to mix the ingredients.

The bread is wonderful stuff... nice crumb, crackling crust, and great flavor.  Apparently, the longer you let it sit in the fridge the more complex it tastes.  I'm looking forward to finding out, but I don't know that I have the willpower to let the bread dough just sit for that long!

1) Just have to say I love how easy it is to do accented characters on a Mac... option-c gets you the ç, where on Windows it was Alt-some four digit number.
2) Culinary Institute of America.