Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Musings On No-Knead Bread

I know that many of you out there in the internet world have tried baking the now-legendary New York Times No-Knead Bread. If you're like me, you lugged out a cast-iron pot and went to town, probably with glorious results. Jim Lahey's technique works. However, during a recent perusal of the archives over at Farmgirl Fare, I learned that this bread need not be placed in a pot at all. This opens up tremendous new possibilities, such as making oversize batches of dough and baking three or four loaves at a time. I tried it at home, yielding the above results.

This bread had a less defined shape and looser crumb than my efforts inside the pan. Also, for some reason, much more flour stuck to the crust of the bread this time, resulting in a drier, thicker crust than most of my previous attempts. That, however, is probably a mixing snafu and not a baking issue. To solve these problems, I will try baking the no-knead bread outside of the pot again, but try to get plumper, more even loaves during chafing and perhaps experiment with different water percentages. Sometimes the no-knead bread has an open yet bizarrely wet and heavy crumb.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Stuffed White Wine-Rosemary Focaccia

So, I was just home for Thanksgiving break. If Thanksgiving was any indication of what Christmas will be like, a baking whirlwind may end up annihilating my parents' kitchen. I baked four different kinds of loaves this past week, and I'd like to highlight here what I believe to be my greatest success.

When I heard that some special guests would be coming over for dinner on the night before thanksgiving, I poked around the kitchen to see what equally special ingredients I could pull up. We have an enormous rosemary plant on our back porch, as well as a truly gargantuan sage bush out front. I couldn't use the sage because my mother recently used a highly toxic fertilizer to stop an aphid problem, but the rosemary was mine for the taking. So, I grabbed a bottle of white wine, some olive oil, and two eight-inch stalks of rosemary in order to make this bread.

This particular recipe calls for a fairly standard dough at first: two teaspoons of yeast are added to 1/2 cup water, which is put into a well in 3 1/2 cups flour to sponge for 20 minutes. After the sponge is risen and frothy, add 1/3 cup white wine, 1/3 cup olive oil, and a generous handful of fresh rosemary to the well and incorporate the remaining flour until all is part of the dough. Knead for ten minutes, and place in an oiled bowl to rise for an hour.

Once the dough has risen, divide it in two, and chafe each part for about five minutes (to chafe, cup your hands around the dough and spin it briskly but gently in one direction so that the dough becomes a ball). After chafing, roll each piece of dough out into a round approximately ten inches in circumfrence and half an inch thick.

Put the first round on a lightly oiled baking sheet or baking stone. Cover this round with mozarella, gorgonzola, fresh basil, roasted peppers, or whatever other delicious treats your kitchen provides.

Put the second round on top of the first, and lightly pinch around the dough to create a seal. This step is important; I was slightly sloppy in one spot and had a pretty serious cheese detonation in the oven.

Bake that business for about 45 minutes. I put an ice tray in the oven and squirt the walls with water in order to get a crispy crust. I really like the crust that olive oil-enriched bread gets; it's light and flaky, like a butter crust, but vegan and lactose intolerant-friendly. The olive oil is probably way healthier than butter, anyway.

Once the focaccia was finished, we divvied it up and had a feast.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


Today, I got back from class with the urge to bake, so I got all my supplies and headed down to my building's kitchen. But lo, going to college in rural Ohio has its pitfalls: the north side of campus is on boil alert, so the stove top turned out to be my source of running water.

Undeterred, I baked on. I decided to bake baguettes, based on a super-simple recipe that I must have collected somewhere (I have a moleskine notebook in which I collect thoughts and recipes). This particular baguette recipe begins with a starter. To begin, you need:

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp dry yeast
2 cups water (warm)

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and let it sit. After heating the water, sprinkle in the yeast and let it sit for a few minutes. When it looks like it's starting to dissolve on its own, stir it with a wooden spoon. Pour the yeast-water mix into the bowl with the flour and squish it around with your hands until it is all incorporated. You can use the more traditional well incorporation technique if you want, but I didn't write that in the recipe and these turned out just fine without it.

Once the above ingredients are incorporated, let the starter sit for three hours or so until it becomes a soupy mess:

For the next step, sift in two more cups of flour and a teaspoon of salt. I don't have a sifter, but I found a bored roommate who wanted to play with flour, which worked just fine:

Having incorporated the the last few dry ingredients, I kneaded for ten minutes, and placed the dough in an oiled bowl to rise for another hour. After the rise, I broke the dough into three pieces and rolled them out to baguettes. I think I let the dough rise a little too long (it's HOT in the dorm), because (as you'll see) it looks like the baguettes were collapsed a little and the dough felt a little limp. I let them proof for a while and covered two of them with fresh-grated parmesan cheese.

They turned out well. For some reason the cheese-covered ones split apart in total disregard for my slashes. I think this is because the cheese has a lower heat capacity than the crust of the bread and gets much hotter much faster. No matter what it did to the crust, though, parmesan on hot bread is one of the most delicious things in the world.

Next time, I'm going to make a boule. I also want to make Great Granny MacEachern's raisin scones, but I may have to actually wrestle my mother for the recipe. Perhaps, when I'm home for Thanksgiving, I'll raid the recipe drawer.

That's all for now!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Welcome to Bread Party!

Hello. My name is Mike Dunford and I have been an avid baker for about a year. This is my bread blog. I will try to post on it as much as I possibly can, which will probably be once every two weeks or so and more frequently on breaks, when college doesn't get in the way of baking. My goal is to provide recipes, instructions, and step-by-step photos of the baking process. I will also track the progress of starters and other multi-day projects.