Sunday, November 12, 2006

Wonderful loaf!

On November 8 2006 the New York Times published a piece by Mark Bittman entitled The Secret of Great Bread: Let Time Do the Work. Within 24 hours the news had flashed around the blogosphere – a new loaf had been born.

Bittman’s piece – which I would have known nothing about as I don’t get the New York Times, had it not been for the wonderful Lindy at Toast – describes a breadmaking innovation that is nothing short of revolutionary for home bread bakers. Invented by Jim Lahey, of the Sullivan St Bakery in Manhattan, it consists of a very loose dough, containing a tiny amount of yeast, which is fermented over a period of twelve to eighteen hours, and then given another rising of two hours. Importantly, it is not kneaded at all in the first place, the ingredients are just incorporated together into a claggy stickiness. The yeast does all the work overnight. Then the dough is slapped about a couple of times and put to rise again.

Then comes the truly clever part.

Half an hour before you intend to bake, you put the oven on to heat to 220ÂșC. Into the oven goes a casserole with a lid, cast iron, Pyrex, ceramic or something heavy. When the bread is ready to bake you tip the dough (well, you practically pour it actually) into the dish, cover with the lid, and cook for half an hour. The dish acts as a little oven inside a bigger oven; the heat injects a whoosh into the dough; the lid stops it from drying out too soon. After half an hour you take the lid off and finish off the bread for another fifteen or twenty minutes.

It works! By god it works. With a minimum of effort you end up with a loaf with a creamy, holey crumb and a crackling crust.

I felt that my original dough was not quite claggy enough, so I did add a little more water. I think this is because I was a little cavalier with my cup measuring – maybe you should measure cups of flour level and mine were a bit heaped. And flour can be a bit capricious in its water absorbing capacity.

I worried a lot about whether I should smear a bit of oil around the hot dish, but in the end I didn’t, because it didn’t say anywhere I should. The loaf did not stick.

When it flipped out of the dish it was as light as a feather. It is wonderful to eat, will make great toast, and I simply cannot believe how easy it was. As someone has already said, listen up Le Creuset!


Pille said...

This is really interesting, June! I love baking bread, and don't really mind the kneading and proving bit - I find it very relaxing - but I should try this novel version just for the sake of it.

June said...

Hi Pille
I think you'll be pleased with the very light loaf that this method produces, and the lovely thin crust. I like baking bread, and I like eating it too, and I can eat more of this because it is so un-dense. I do agree however that it is verging on the breadmaking machine because there is so little work involved, and we don't want that do we! Saved, I think, by the eighteen hour ferment.

Susan in Italy said...

What a great crumb! I read the Ny Times article and planned to try that method and am so glad to see visual confirmation that it works really well. Well done!

June said...

Hi Susan
Do give it a try, and I think it will lend itself to sourdough too. It's great to have bread that looks and tastes like this and know exactly what went into it! Aim for a loose dough but not too liquid - you know what will work.

ChrisB said...

This does sound easy so I might just give it a try. There is nothing so delicious as freshly baked bread.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful! I have a little banneton like yours, but it is round, and my big pan ovoid! Love the beehivey stripes.It is wonderfully light, isn't it? I was surprised at the feather weight when I slid it out.

June said...

My pan is oval too - just tip the contents of the banneton in...they seem to find their own level!

Susan in Italy said...

I'm about to make this bread and it occurs to me that the very loose dough will probably stick to the proofing basket. I see by the beehive design on your bread that you used the basket for the 18-hour proffing time. How did thast go? Did it stick? How much flour did you line the basket with? And thanks again for going there first!

June said...

Hi Susan

Good question - I worried about this a lot! I used my round proofing basket and floured it very well, sprinkling flour around the sides as well when I had put in the dough. I used white bread flour for the dough and for the flouring, and I have used the basket several times before so it had been floured well in the past. When I tipped the dough out there was a slight skin on the bottom of the dough and it didn't stick. I used an oval dish to cook the bread and the dough found it's own level in the dish. I'm just about - right now - to do it a second time, and this time I've used quite a percentage of coarse wholemeal flour and have floured the banneton with it. Not sure if the coarse flour will have clung so well to the sides of the basket. I also, through time problems, let the dough rise for nearly twenty four hours on the first rising. Am crossing my fingers!

June said...

Susan - five minutes later

It plopped out fine, no sticking, in fact I think the coarse wholemeal made it more non stick rather than less.

Very best of luck!

June said...


Have just read your comment again - I let the dough rise for the first time in the bowl and transferred it to the banneton for the second rise.

Anonymous said...

Hello June,

Thank you for the pointer to the NY Times article regarding the "no knead" bread.

I watched the video and read the article, and the interesting thing is the video and the (written) article gave different amounts of flour. 3 cups of flour to 1.5 cups water in the video, 3 cups of flour to 1 5/8 (one and five eighths) cups water in the printed out recipe. Also, the baker dusted his towel (in which he allowed the bread to rise for the second time), with wheat bran -underneath and on top of the loaf. Then he folded the towel over the loaf. But he mentioned that you could dust it with flour or cornmeal as well. I don't know why they gave different amounts on the video and the written recipe.

What is uncanny, is that before I read the NY Times article I baked "the bread of the 7 days rising" in a pyre dish with a cover on and I noticed how soft the top crust was. I did not measure anything, I just threw everything in a bowl until it seemed right. Consequently, I had a lot more dough than I had pans to put it in. I put one in a Pyrex loaf pan, one kind of loose on a stainless steel surface and one in the Pyrex casserole with a lid. Although they all had a tender crust (I think this is due to the 7 day rise), the one in the pan had the most tender. I did not, however, remove the lid the last twenty minutes. I will definitely try the NY Times article method, although I am concerned about burning myself. It looked rather dangerous on the video.

Also, I read somewhere that you can take a bit of the already yeasted dough and dry it. Then you can reactivate it later with water and flour. You can spread it thin to dry, (it becomes flakes), or you can take a stick or a string and dip it and re-dip it (like a candle) and then dry that.

(and in my previous post the word is *refrigerate*, not *refrigarate*)

Summer (the previous anonymous)

June said...

Hi Summer

I wouldn't worry too much about the slight difference in quantities - it's much easier to measure one and a half cups than it is to measure one and five eighths! It also doesn't really matter what you dust your towel (or banneton - see other comments here) with, but bran and cornmeal absorb less water and are traditionally used as dusting flours.

There is definitely a danger of burning yourself but you just need to be careful. Take the dish out of the oven to put the dough in, I suggest!

Do tell us how the bread was after its 7 day proving - was it sour enough for you? If you keep back a bit of proved dough before you put it for its final rising you can keep it in a jar and start the thing all over again, but I've never heard of the candle dipping method, or the flakes - sounds fascinating!

Susan in Italy said...

Thanks for the details, June! They helped a lot. Haven't made it yet but soon. Will report.

Anonymous said...

Hi June,

The bread turned out very heavy. More like a brick. With quite a sour taste, much like a German sourdough, although I prefer more sour for a change. I read rye flour will produce a more sour taste. Must try that. This is just an experiment though, I am not sure I could tolerate such a sour taste every day. Also it has a slightly bitter aftertaste, but any whole wheat bread I have made without sugar has that kind of taste, (so hopefully taste is not due to mold). Bread has wonderful keeping qualities, probably due to all the acids and alcohol produced during fermentation. Easily digestible. We have been through two loaves and have now started on the third.

I guess there are acids and alcohol produced during the yeast fermentation, (part of the Kreb's cycle, apparently), which is probably why the bread has good keeping qualities. In any case...not to bore you too much...

A bit of history of how I found your site: I wanted to see if anyone else had ever tried proofing (is that the right word?) for so many days, and what their results were, and I guess after putting in different combinations of words in Google, I arrived at your site. (I suppose the connection was the fact that you let your starter sit out).

I enjoyed reading your blog. You make Somerset sound intriguing,(although I am not sure about the fog).

And, oh by the way, I thought that you had mentioned having difficulty with how wet the dough was (but I must have read it somewhere else), which is why I mentioned the 1.5, 1.5/8 cups thing. Personally, I usually don't measure things and go more by feel.


June said...

Hi Summer

I did indeed talk about wet dough, but it was in a different post, in July, entitled Flour+Water=Sticky. A lot of other people made comments on various blog sites about the wetness of the NYT dough. The secret is to touch it with your hands as little as possible I think, because, as I say in the July post, we have an aversion to sticky hands. I use a spatula to flip the NYT dough about so I keep my hands dry, otherwise its very tempting to add flour.

Most sourdoughs use a starter and fresh flour for each batch of dough. The longer you keep the starter, refreshing each batch, the more sour it gets, but you are the first person I have heard of who has fermented the whole thing for that amount of time. I would think that the yeast would get a bit exhausted, which is why you get the heavy texture. It has to keep feeding to produce the carbon dioxide!

Have no idea what the Krebs cycle is - am very impressed!

Cerulean Bill said...

Truly amazing. I have to admit, I was a tad disappointed with the crumb -- I'd say it was a little damp and not holey enough -- but that terrific crust, and the lack of effort involved, certainly made up for it.

June said...


Do you think maybe you didn't let it rise for long enough the second time? I don't know where you are but I don't have the heating on all day and it might easily take longer than 2 hours for the final rise. It should come up very puffy before it goes into the oven. But after 20 hours I know I get a bit impatient!

Anonymous said...

Dear June!

I baked the NYT bread today. My husband is raving about the beautiful color, the nice spongy inside, the great texture. Usually my bread is heavy, but this one we could actually see little lovely bubbly holes. Of course in typical fashion, I did not follow everything exactly. For example, I doused (right word?) the dough with roasted hazelnut, walnut and olive oil (this during the first rise, so that it would not get dry on top-it always does even though I cover it), and also so that it would not stick as much. I am not sure how long I let it rise the first time, but well over 17 hours. Then approximately two hours for the second rise. Also, as I am still afraid I will burn myself, I did not heat the casserole. I olive pam-ed it (do you have Pam in England? it's non sticky stuff which they now have brought out in olive oil-I know it's not very rustic-but it beats having to scrape things off).

In any case, the bread was wonderfully crunchy and delicious. Now I will have to try it with whole wheat flour.

Oh, one more thing. Did you see the video? I folded the dough in four over itself and after it got baked and I tried to cut it, it would not cut evenly, i.e. although it was possible to cut it if you were very careful, it wanted to cut where I had folded it over (not in a slice). It would be great for tearing off though. I don't know if I made myself clear, do you know what I mean?

I must try your oatmeal biscuits. They look healthy.

And, I don't know blog etiquette. Are my messages too long? Am I committing a faux pas by such long messages? Forgive me if I am, just let me know.


June said...

Hi Summer
It's very nice to read your lengthy comments as they are very interesting. I'm so glad the NYT bread is working for you.

Next time please do try preheating the casserole dish. That's the whole point of this method because it creates a steamy atmosphere immediately. I'm sure you will be glad you did. Just take it out of the oven and drop the dough in carefully - you won't burn yourself. And you really do not need to oil it with anything, I was surprised.

If coating the dough in oil works for you that's great. But your dough should really be sticky enough not to need it. I always tie a plastic carrier bag around the entire bowl and I find that works.

When you fold the dough over before the second rise, tuck it in on itself so it forms a nice ball. And I wonder if the oil from the first rise has formed some sort of barrier?

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.