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I mentioned recently that I was going to tackle baking this year, come hell or high water.

Both have come already.

Maybe that’s a little exaggerated, the bread below at least appears to be a success right? But the truth is, I managed to screw up Jim Lahey’s now famous recipe for no-knead bread. The recipe gained cult popularity after The New York Times published it and, well, because you don’t have to knead it. The small amount of yeast in the recipe rises just fine without all the hard labour because it has so much time to rise–as much as a day, in fact. Yep. Its popularity lies in its ease and success rate and…I messed it up.

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You’d think with a before picture that looked like the one above, I’d have no problem. There’s a damn thermometer in the water which I used to make sure that even it was at the right temperature. I opted to weigh my ingredients which is far more accurate than measuring them.

 

 

I mixed the dough (top left), it rose (top right), I packed it away in a floured bed for a second rise (bottom left) and then half of it didn’t come off (bottom right). Even in the step before that, I knew something was wrong when I couldn’t form the dough properly after the first rise, and it didn’t really rise properly the second time–it wasn’t holding an indent when poked like it was supposed to. And in the end it sort of burnt on the bottom when baking, so I had to take it out before it got that chestnut brown colour that Jim’s bread has.

But don’t fear.

The good news is this:

-Even my failed attempt at this bread was AMAZING. Best bread I’ve had in ages: a crust that shatters, a light crumb with lots of air pockets and just absolutely delicious. I ate most of it without anything else at all, and some of it dripping with olive oil, the remainder slathered with salted butter.

-Plus, I knew exactly where I went wrong. I didn’t follow the recipe in the book in two places, and the recipe in the book has since been tweaked slightly in two critical ways (detailed below).

So I’m making this bread again and I invite you all to do the same, and post about it as well. I want to know what went right and what went wrong for you via your comments in this post or the follow-up post on May 4. I’m encouraging you to link back to your posts in the comments, and if you’d like, to link back to these baking “tutorials” (a new one each month) and maybe, just maybe, us amateur bakers can learn a thing or two from each other and any expert voices that pipe up. I plan to bring a few experts into this series along the way.

And thus, the new baking academy on le sauce is open for business.

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But it wouldn’t be much of an acedemy without a little lesson, right? I’ll keep it short, and you can get a more detailed account of why this bread works without kneading in Jim Lahey’s book My Bread, which I highly recommend reading. Not only will you learn about the role of bacteria and time in creating a nice acidic flavour in a long-rise bread like this, and how proteins in flour absorb water which helps it rise, you will actually enjoy reading it. I truly did. His story is interesting and he tells it succinctly and vividly.

But if you’re following the recipe in his book like I did, be warned:

  • Unlike the one below, from his website, the book gives you the option to cover the bowl with a towel rather than only with plastic wrap. After the long initial rise, my bread was discoloured in some spots and a tiny bit dry. That made me think that it was exposed to too much air, and wish I’d opted to cover it with plastic wrap, and what do you know, this recipe now explicitly instructs you to do just that.
  • Also, getting it out of the bowl in one piece was challenging, and in the book, there is no mention of oiling the bowl to eliminate that problem. There is in the online version.
  • And as for where I deviated from the recipe: I could not find bread flour which has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour which likely to affect the rise and end result; and I used a lighter than desirable pot (all I had on hand), so I wasn’t surprised when it burnt at the bottom.

So! Before May 4, I am making the bread again, with the right flour, in a heavy enamel pot, according the updated recipe below. Please join me!

And to reiterate, our baking academy will simply work like this:

1. I research and relate a recipe and process like I did here today.

2. We all have until the first Tuesday of the following month to make the recipe with any added tweaks and learning, including any secrets you have to share, which I hope you will leave in the comments below. Feel free to ask questions in the comments too.

3. By that first Tuesday, you post your pictures and results on your blog, and come to the follow up post here and comment with any learning a link to your post. Yes, links are encouraged, your feedback and learning is needed, and hopefully we’ll all come out at the end having learned how to bake one delicious thing, and knowing a lot more than we did a month ago.

Complaining about how much flour you had to clean off the floor, is totally, totally acceptable.

Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread (via his website)
Formula:

3 cups (430g) flour
1½ cups (345g or 12oz) water
¼ teaspoon (1g) yeast
1¼ teaspoon (8g) salt
olive oil (for coating)
extra flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal (for dusting)

Equipment:

Two medium mixing bowls
6 to 8 quart pot with lid (Pyrex glass, Le Creuset cast iron, or ceramic)
Wooden Spoon or spatula (optional)
Plastic wrap
Two or three cotton dish towels (not terrycloth)

Process:

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add water and incorporate by hand or with a wooden spoon or spatula for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Lightly coat the inside of a second medium bowl with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest 12 hours at room temperature (approx. 65-72°F).

Remove the dough from the bowl and fold once or twice. Let the dough rest 15 minutes in the bowl or on the work surface. Next, shape the dough into ball. Generously coat a cotton towel with flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal; place the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with flour. Cover the dough with a cotton towel and let rise 1-2 hours at room temperature, until more than doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 450-500°F. Place the pot in the oven at least 30 minutes prior to baking to preheat. Once the dough has more than doubled in volume, remove the pot from the oven and place the dough in the pot seam side up. Cover with the lid and bake 30 minutes Then remove the lid and bake 15-30 minutes uncovered, until the loaf is nicely browned.

YS Note: Since The New York Times first published it, they’ve proclaimed that a second rise is not even necessary. I’m sticking to the 2-rise method until I nail it but you might like to try both. If you do, report back!