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Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Bob Ross » Wed Nov 08, 2006 2:49 pm

Bittman has an article about the technique in today's Times -- he's as usual over the top enthusiastic about a technique he's only tried for three weeks. But I chatted with Jim Lahey several years ago at his shop. Lahey struck me as a down to earth fellow, and loved the bread from his Sullivan Street Bakery and at a number of restaurants he supplies, especially at Babbo.

Here's a recent "New York" review of the bakery itself: "A Soho institution with a Hell's Kitchen outpost, Sullivan St. Bakery has been home to the best baked bread in the city for the past ten years, gracing restaurant tables from Babbo to Bistro Margot. Classics include their signature pane Pugliese, with a dark, crusty exterior concealing a soft, spongy core. The raisin walnut loaf, packed with whole grains, nuts and plump raisins, is dense and delicious—a meal in itself. Though the sweet treats tend to err on the dry side, the flour power of the bread never disappoints. — Sandra Nygaard"

Bittman quotes an email from Lahey: "'I’ll be teaching a truly minimalist breadmaking technique that allows people to make excellent bread at home with very little effort. The method is surprisingly simple — I think a 4-year-old could master it — and the results are fantastic.'"

Boy, if a four year old can do it, I probably can conquer the technique as well.

Regards, Bob

Recipe: No-Knead Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html Free regristration required.
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Christy M.

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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Christy M. » Wed Nov 08, 2006 2:56 pm

I have not, but I saw the NY Times article and am going to give it a shot. Bittman makes it sound like a dream come true. I'll let you know how it goes.
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Jenise » Wed Nov 08, 2006 3:17 pm

Bob, haven't read the article yet. But does it say that it's such a loose dough that a mold (pot) is neccessary?
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Bob Ross » Wed Nov 08, 2006 3:29 pm

No mold, Jenise. The second rising makes it manageable (apparetly) at least manageable enough to get it into the pot. The whole technique appeals to my sloppy nature, frankly.

It is important to have a pot that allows you to cover it for the first half hour according to the discussion.

Mr. Lahey thinks imprecision isn’t much of a handicap and, indeed, his method seems to iron out the wrinkles: “I encourage a somewhat careless approach,” he says, “and figure this may even be a disappointment to those who expect something more difficult. The proof is in the loaf.”

Most bakers I've met -- especially at CIA -- were really precise folks. I would love to be able to make at least acceptable bread without using a scale, a thermometer and careful timing.

Regards, Bob
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Robin Garr » Wed Nov 08, 2006 4:42 pm

Bob Ross wrote:Bittman


'nuff said.
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Bob Ross » Wed Nov 08, 2006 4:48 pm

Lahey.

Worth a look. :)
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Bob Ross » Wed Nov 08, 2006 5:30 pm

For folks who would like to learn about Jim Lahey, his simple bread making technique, and a real life experience at his bread making class, all without any possible Bittman infection -- take a look at http://www.chowmaster.com/education-sul ... ing-class/

The summary:

Although the three hour class did drag at times, overall I did learn easy techniques on how to bake a perfect loaf of bread. It literally takes 5 simple household ingredients. 15 seconds to mix, then wait for 12 hours for the dough to rise. Shape the dough and wait for 2 hours. Bake for 50 minutes, then VOILA! perfect round Italian bread. No bullshit. You are doing physical labor for no more than 1 minute. The majority of the time, you are waiting for the bread to rise and bake. I would highly recommend this $150 class for people who love to eat bread, in particular to people who dont know squat about baking. This class opened my eyes to a new baking world thats easy to learn and has a taste comparable to the best bread I have ever tasted. Besides, you not only get to learn things from the owner but you also get an amazing tour of the bakery “factory”. Aside from that, you also get to take home bread, dough, T-shirts and the experience.

Personally, I'd save the $150 and buy some bread flour. Another class covers pizza dough -- but Robin and Stuart have already taught me how to make a drop dead pizza dough.

Maybe I'll become a baker yet. I do think the smell of baking bread makes every meal taste better -- I often buy those rolls in the little cylinders and bake them up in the end game of a fancy meal -- not to serve, necessarily, just to improve the ambience.

[It's a trick that is supposed to make it easier to sell your house too.]

Regards, Bob
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Robin Garr » Wed Nov 08, 2006 7:42 pm

Bob Ross wrote:Lahey.

Worth a look. :)


I've looked, Bob, and I agree that the very long rise time would be good for flavor development. But I'm befuddled by the obvious physical issue: Where's the gluten?
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Stuart Yaniger » Wed Nov 08, 2006 10:29 pm

Did you read the quote by Harold McGee in the NYT article? It explained the gluten issue perfectly, as one would expect from McGee.
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Bob Ross » Wed Nov 08, 2006 10:33 pm

That's right, Stuart -- just for the record -- I worried about this point until I read McGee's explanation, and then forgot when I posted:

"“It makes sense. The long, slow rise does over hours what intensive kneading does in minutes: it brings the gluten molecules into side-by-side alignment to maximize their opportunity to bind to each other and produce a strong, elastic network. The wetness of the dough is an important piece of this because the gluten molecules are more mobile in a high proportion of water, and so can move into alignment easier and faster than if the dough were stiff.”

Regards, Bob
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Robin Garr » Wed Nov 08, 2006 11:36 pm

Stuart Yaniger wrote:Did you read the quote by Harold McGee in the NYT article?


Errrr ... no.

It explained the gluten issue perfectly, as one would expect from McGee.


Guess I'd better go look, then.

I'm still not sure I see the point to this, though, other than the sheer joy of discovery of course. What's wrong with kneading?
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Bob Ross » Wed Nov 08, 2006 11:52 pm

One advantage -- my grandmother used to make bread every day. I don't remember her technique, but this looks like a practical way to have fresh bread every day with very little work or time.

I could see making batches a day ahead, even mixing the flour and yeast and then adding water the day before you wanted to bake.

Doesn't it take either a great deal of time to knead the dough or a fair amount of time cleaning the mixer if you knead with a mixer in a more traditional way?

The other advantage I've read about is simplicity -- I remember bakers talking about how many different variables could affect how the bread rises -- temp, humidty, etc. Here the high water content and the long rising time seems to increase the chances of success.

***

I must say Lahey really impressed me, Robin -- he was so enthusiastic and he's become an institution in New York as far as bread is concerned. He seems to really be a believer in this technique -- worth trying on his word alone in my book.

I'll report back.
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Robin Garr » Thu Nov 09, 2006 1:52 am

Bob Ross wrote:Doesn't it take either a great deal of time to knead the dough or a fair amount of time cleaning the mixer if you knead with a mixer in a more traditional way?


Depends on how short you are on time, Bob. ;)

I can't say I think of kneading for French or Italian bread or pizza as a major time sink ... it's much quicker than making a risotto, for instance. I'd guess 10 or 15 minutes at most, although individual recipes may vary.

I've never timed it, but I do sometimes hand-knead and sometimes use the Kitchenaid with dough hook, but my sense of it is that the total time spent on kneading and cleanup is probably about the same either way. Just less manual labor with the dough hook, but sometimes it just feels right to knead the bread the old-fashioned way.
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Bob Ross » Thu Nov 09, 2006 2:00 am

I actually enjoy the kneading part, Robin. Great fun when I make pizza for example. And your training over the three newsletters devoted to pizza dough technique, and Stuart's recco for the flour, have made me a star!

The consistently good results promised by the technique are what attracts me -- my bread quality has been so variable -- never particularly good.

I'm sure my results would be better with more experience and greater care, but I lack the patience and precision to become a good baker. I'll give this technique a shot -- we do like fresh bread.

And, if as promised, my bread will be better than what we get at Babbo -- boy, I'll be a star in the bread arena too. :)
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Bob Ross » Thu Nov 09, 2006 3:57 am

The article on bread making has engendered some unusually good discussion on the Times food site, usually a pretty pathetic discussion group. A few points of possible interest:

1. The article is the most emailed of the day.

2. The Times has added a video of Fahey demonstrating the technique from start to finish.

3. There is some really interesting debate over whether fast bread making with a machine is better than the slower let it make itself Fahey technique.

4. One person linked to a very interesting article on why one should add 2% salt, 98% flour:

http://www.paperthetown.com/bread/b172.html

Salt In Bread Dough

Salt is such a minor ingredient in bread that few bakers stop to think about its exact role in bread-making. However, sometimes focusing a light on a seemingly unimportant aspect of bread-making can illuminate the whole bread-making process. Such is the case with salt. Salt exerts an influence on almost every stage of bread-making, and every aspect of bread. Why is salt one of bread's cornerstones? What importance does it have beyond being a flavoring element? This article will attempt to explain and clarify some of the chemistry governing salt's interactions with bread dough.

Salt's primary purpose in bread is to evoke and enhance the bread's flavor. To most Americans, saltless bread is insipid and virtually inedible, but adding only approximately 2% of the flour weight in salt to the average bread formula manifestly changes the perception of bread's flavor, eliciting the full spectrum of complex flavor notes, including a sweetness that would be otherwise absent. It is interesting that the addition of salt to bread is a relatively new preference. Medieval bread was almost never salted because salt was very expensive and difficult to procure; thus, salt-less bread was preferred. According to Professor Raymond Calvel, professor emeritus of l'Ecole Francaise de Meunerie, French bread formulas started to include salt only at the end of the eighteenth century.


5. One of the participants added:

Salt in bread
Salt keeps the yeast in check (if it touches it, it may kill it) and adds flavor. Bread without salt tastes terrible. Once I forgot to add the salt to a rye bread and though it looked beautiful, I took a bite and spit it out.

According to Rose Levy Beranbaum, you can reduce the salt slightly. she says the weight of the salt you add should be 1.5 - 2.5% the weight of the flour. One cup of AP flour weighs 5 oz., so for 3 cups flour, the salt should weigh .225 oz - .375 oz. Using my scales, 1 t. salt weighs .2 oz and he's using 1 1/4 t. salt, .25 oz., so I wouldn't reduce it too much.


6. From a contrarian:

No knead - Minimalist? Hardly!
Bread is so simple to make these days with appliances like - bread maker, food processor etc, that who wants to wait 24+ hours, and do far more work than a simple bread in 3 hours?
We knead dough in a food processor, remove and cover it up in oven at about 100 F. Punch it down once and let it rise again. We also use breadmaker machine to make the dough but not the bread. Just pour the ingredients and set it for dough. Breadmaker manufacturers discovered that yeast likes very warm temperature near 110-120F and that is why it speeds up bread making.

This is the biggest hype, if I ever seen on these pages.

7. Au Contraire!

Worked perfectly for me!
I spotted this recipe on the Times site last night and immediately made the dough. The consistency was fine with 1 and 5/8 cups of water; I used 2 cups of all-purpose unbleached white flour and 1 cup of whole wheat. I let it sit until about 2 this afternoon. It came out of the oven about 20 minutes ago, beautifully brown with a very crisp crust. It smells heavenly...I'm waiting for it to cool before I try it. It didn't rise quite as much as I expected. I noticed in the video they said 500-525 degrees whereas in his recipe Mark says 450; next time I'll put the temp higher.

8. My kind of guy:

[I bake my loaves] in greased clay flower posts. You know the type, with the hole in the bottom. Psst - don't try this with the plastic kind ;o)
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Robin Garr » Thu Nov 09, 2006 9:53 am

Bob Ross wrote:Bread without salt tastes terrible.


Tell that to the Tuscans. The traditional Tuscan bread is made with no salt at all. (Apparently because it was traditionally served with salty snacks.)
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by John Tomasso » Thu Nov 09, 2006 10:13 am

I saw the article and recipe, and I will probably try it.

Frankly, I'm wildly happy with Robin's "Ultimate Baguette" recipe, and whenever I am in the mood to make bread, that's the one I make. The technique of spraying water on the walls and floor of the oven a few times produces a very nice crust.

The thing I found intriguing about this recipe was the "oven within an oven" idea of turning the Le Creuset into a mini oven, with the bread baking inside it. If this method produces as shatteringly a crispy crust as Bittman says it does, I'll be a happy guy.

We shall see.
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Larry Greenly » Thu Nov 09, 2006 11:18 am

Robin Garr wrote:
Bob Ross wrote:Bread without salt tastes terrible.


Tell that to the Tuscans. The traditional Tuscan bread is made with no salt at all. (Apparently because it was traditionally served with salty snacks.)


The Tuscans can keep their bread. I once made several loaves of bread where I forgot to add any salt. I gave some away to different friends, but didn't realize I had forgotten the salt until that evening when I tried my own loaf. Tres flat. :oops:

Can you say chagrined? My standing as a breadmaker really suffered that day.[/list]
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Bob Ross » Thu Nov 09, 2006 11:51 am

"Tell that to the Tuscans. The traditional Tuscan bread is made with no salt at all. (Apparently because it was traditionally served with salty snacks.)"

"Tu proverai si come sa di sale Lo pane altrui, e com'e duro calle L o scendere e il salir per l'altrui scale."

Another theory -- salt was too expensive for centuries and the Italians just got used to it.
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Robin Garr » Thu Nov 09, 2006 12:00 pm

Bob Ross wrote:Another theory -- salt was too expensive for centuries and the Italians just got used to it.


Intuitively, it seems unlikely. The rest of Italy thinks saltless Tuscan bread is weird, and the Tuscans weren't any more poverty-stricken than anybody else. Less so, perhaps, with the long-term political ascendancy of Florence.
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Bob Ross » Thu Nov 09, 2006 12:31 pm

Wow, I agree completely, Robin -- somehow I lost the last part of my post. Dante was being warned of one of the difficulties he would face being exiled from Florence.

I had meant to add this little note from a Florence Fabricant article I read on a trip to Tuscany at least 20 years ago, and liked so much I put it in my trip diary:

"In these lines from the Paradiso of ''The Divine Comedy,'' Dante learns of his exile from Florence and is given some idea of the difficulties he will face. ''You shall learn how salt is the taste of another's bread, and how hard a path the descending and climbing another's stairs,'' he is told.

The figurative meaning of the passage is clear. But to taste the bread of Florence is to understand the literal interpretation, as well. To this day, the bread served in Florence and throughout Tuscany is unlike that of other regions. The large, thick-crusted oval loaves are made without salt. Flat bread, schiacciata rusks, focaccia and breadsticks are also salt free.

''Some people explain that in the old days salt was very expensive and the Florentines are stingy,'' said Giuliano Bugialli, who teaches cooking in Florence and in New York, ''but that is not correct. The fact is that Tuscan food is highly seasoned and has always been so and the bread, which is eaten with the main course and is an essential part of the meal, provided a better balance without salt.''

Guido Tersaghi, chef of the Hotel Minerva in Florence, who is organizing a school of regional cooking, also remarked that salt-free bread was preferable with typical Tuscan salami such as finocchiona and soprassata, which are extremely salty. The Tuscans even call the traditional air-dried Parma ham ''sweet'' prosciutto in comparison with the saltier local products.


Sorry, my quoting is flawed this morning. :(

Thanks for clarifying what I meant.

Regards, Bob
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Robin Garr » Thu Nov 09, 2006 12:51 pm

Bob Ross wrote:Wow, I agree completely, Robin -- somehow I lost the last part of my post. Dante was being warned of one of the difficulties he would face being exiled from Florence.


Interesting, Bob, and thanks for the further edumicifation. I can testify based on recent experience that saltless Tuscan bread is still offered at restaurants, but most of the places we dined presented it as a "look at this interesting local specialty" thing rather than the only option.

Speaking of Dante, have you looked through the modern <I>Inferno</I> translation by Robert Pinsky? I've always been partial to Ciardi because of his poetic English, but Pinsky gets a lot of praise, as I recall, for managing clear, readable English prose that's apparently much closer to Dante. The paperback version I have places English on the right-hand page and Dante's Italian on the left - it's fun to look back and forth and try to grasp how the translator handled things.
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by Bob Ross » Thu Nov 09, 2006 1:09 pm

Thanks for the lead, Robin. I've ordered Pinsky's version. Sounds good.

Regards, Bob
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Re: Has anyone tried the no-knead method of making bread?

by ChefCarey » Thu Nov 09, 2006 1:53 pm

You all might enjoiy checking out Mark Musa's Vita Nuova. I knew him when I was at Indiana - took a seminar from him.

Oh, and I bake every day here. The first thing I teach my students about baking bread (and rolls) is: Bread with no salt has no flavor, no character.
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