Saturday, May 14, 2011

My Bread – well, it’s Jim Lahey’s bread really...

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Robert Browning said “If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens." Try saying “tastest” with a mouth full of bread J but he’s right. I could happily work my way through an entire loaf, warm from the oven and slathered with butter – fresh raspberry jam optional.
Flour, water, salt, yeast... and time

Bread has the power to win hearts and sell houses. When I say bread, I mean the sort made with love, not with industrial machinery.
In a recent giveaway, Absurd Baker very kindly sent me Jim Lahey’s My Bread: The revolutionary no-work, no-knead method. Jim is a man in love with bread. The introduction follows his progress from Tuscany in the ‘90s, through selling bread in a SoHo street market, to the Sullivan Street Bakery and beyond.
Bread in a pot - weird... but wonderful!
He talks about the ‘singing loaf’ in his overview of the method: the loaf crackles as it cools in the final and very important phase of baking as the damp crumb forces steam through the dry crust. Cut into the loaf before it sings and suffer average bread. Defer that pleasure until the bread has sung, for an entirely different experience.
I’ve made two of Jim Lahey's breads: the basic recipe and the Pane Integrale – a wholewheat version – both using his bread-in-a-pot method.
In some ways, if you’ve never made bread before, you have the advantage with this book because you are not comparing it to traditional kneaded doughs. In the recipes I’ve tried so far, I’ve found the dough alarmingly wet - almost porridgy. However, because this bread is no-knead, handling is minimal and the dough firms up a little as it rises. Lahey uses a mere 2 grams of yeast – a quarter of what I would normally use. 2 grams of yeast is sufficient because of the long rising time.

From porridgy dough to 'Pane' perfection
If you are a seasoned baker, hold your nerve. You think it’s not going to work out and the whole cook-it-in-a-pot thing is downright weird... but actually, it’s how my great-great-grandparents would have cooked their bread and the result is sensational. The basic loaf didn’t last long enough to be photographed.
After commenting that the finished Pane Integral looked like a cowpat (it is rather flat) my beloved helped me polish off half the loaf in one sitting. The crumb is open and even and the bread has real flavour despite having the most basic of ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast.
I am going to work my way through this book: there is carrot bread, peanut bread, chocolate bread. There is foccacia, and pizza, and olive bread, and the book’s party pieces such as Stecca (next on my list to try). The book is illustrated with clear step-by-step photos where needed.
Absurb Baker, you said I’d enjoy this book. I LOVE it!

My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method by Jim Lahey with Rick Flaste
Published by W & W Norton and Co
ISBN 978-0-393-06630-2
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