In little over a month, my sourdough starter turns one year old. For much of the past year, it has slept in the back of my refrigerator. I don’t eat bread often. When I make it, I usually expects dinner guests.  Having mastered the famous No-Knead Bread, which I first started making about five or more years ago, I grew bored with making it and found it sometimes boring to eat.

In the past few months, every two weeks or so, I wake up my starter and feed it for a few days until it’s fully woke, as those who support taking a knee try to be. Anticipating a 3-day process, I begin by making the leaven and then putting 200 grams of it through the grueling process of becoming the bread that the Tartine owner-baker, Chad Robertson, makes. The Basic Country Bread recipe in Tartine Bread take practice, but it is well worth it. In all the times I’ve made the bread, I’ve learned that the quality of the flour, good spring water, and a healthy leaven count just as much as the technique.

Fortunately, Robertson gives a very detailed explanation of the process. He offers options for immediate or deferred baking. Now that I’ve tried both ways a few times, I am now resigned to the Deferred Method. It’s nearly a three-day process. A tricky part was calculating when I’ll actually get to bake. But once it’s out of the pan, the crust is hard, the crumb is moist and full of air holes, and the taste is decidedly but pleasantly sour. This bread is definitely superior to the No-Knead version.

In making the bread, I introduced one key innovation. I bake the bread on my Weber gas grill. I live in northern California, where heating an oven to the max is not comfortable. What’s more, I have a small (24″ wide) wall oven. Manipulating scorching hot cast iron within such small space is hard and dangerous. So, to make bread, I had to take it out to my little patio, where the propane and the charcoal grills live. I have one more challenge to perfect the process. Baking the bread in the cast-iron pot had resulted in the bottom of the bread charring, as you can see below.

I have tried many different ways — adjusting the heat, turning down or off the middle of the three burners, moving the loaf to a cooler tile once it’s jumped, not preheating the base of the cast-iron pot — no matter what I do there is always some char. It’s never enough that it ruins the loaf (I cut off the char, slice up the loaf, and either save it for toast or shred it for croutons). But it’s annoying.

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I’m still not sure what other options I have. However, the crumb is consistently excellent. I use Anson Mills Mediterranean White Bread Flour and mix in a modest amount of King Arthur’s Whole Wheat Flour. I know, the carbon foot print. But it makes a difference.

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This is just a sampler of an experiment I will explore in the next post, which will be a breakdown of Robertson’s rustic bread recipe. I also plan to experiment with my new Instant Pot. Two experiments have already pleased me. Stay tuned. Feedback appreciated.

from My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method, pp. 77-75.

Forgive this cookbook’s subtitle that promises no work. I’m sure Lahey had nothing to do with it. Revolutionary, yes. No-knead, yes. No work? Not quite. Nevertheless, Lahey’s new book has taken up permanent occupancy on the shelf where I keep the cookbooks I use constantly. Now that I have made three breads from the book, I have come to appreciate the recipes and the specific advice the author gives. For instance, he cooks his breads in a very hot oven (475 F). But he also says that home ovens can vary so much that those who use his book have to decide for themselves where their oven works best for the bread. The acceptable range runs from 425 F all the way to 500 F. My oven, I’ve decided, works best for bread at either 425 F or 450 F, but not higher.

Even if you’re devoted to the version of Lahey’s No-Knead Bread offered by Mark Bittman in his column a couple of years ago, your technique will improve and your options will double if you use this book.  The recipes, however, differ subtly from Bittman’s and Cook’s Illustrated adaptations of the Slow-Rise Bread. I find the doughs in Lahey’s book wetter than the imitators, which is no bad thing. That’s partly what makes the crust hard. It means you have been handle the dough more carefully. The crust on all three of the breads turned out hard. When I pushed my thumbs into the bottom of a roll to break it open, the crumb displayed a beautiful constellation of air holes. My only quibble about this particular recipe concerns amounts. Lahey recommends doubling the Pancetta Bread recipe and cutting the twice-risen dough into twenty balls. I made half the Pancetta Bread amounts and cut the dough into 5 balls. They seemed a little small to me. Plus, I found the pancetta amounts a little on the skimpy side. But don’t err in overcompensating!

So, in what follows I combine Lahey’s instructions an for  Pancetta Bread with the Pancetta Rolls variation that comes at the end:

For 10 pancetta rolls:

300 grams, or about 2 1/3 cups, pancetta, sliced 1/4-inch thick (by the deli) and cut into 1/4-inch dice, or slab bacon, diced

3 cups, or 400 grams, bread flour (strong flour, in the UK)

1/2 teaspoon, or 3 grams, table salt

Shadowcook: I used a scant teaspoon of kosher salt.

1/4 teaspoon, or 1 gram, instant or other active dry yeast

1/4 teaspoon or to taste, or 1/2 gram, hot red pepper flakes (optional)

1 1/2 cups, or 350 grams, cool (55 to 65 degrees F) water

wheat bran, cornmeal, or additional flour for dusting

1. Cook the pancetta or bacon in a heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally until crisp and golden, about 10 minutes. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the fat. Drain the pancetta on paper towels and let cool.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, pancetta, salt, yeast, and red pepper flakes, if you’re using them. Add the water and reserved rendered fat, and using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.

Shadowcook: Remember, it’s likely to be a wet dough, so don’t worry. If it isn’t wet, you’re still okay.

3. When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula, life the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.

4. Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gentle poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

Shadowcook: Because this dough has the potential of being wetter than the Slow-Rise Bread dough, make sure you do generously flour both the work surface and the tea towel. The first time I made bread from this book, the dough stuck to the tea towel when I tried to flip it into the heated Dutch oven. In this recipe, it is a problem, since you’ll be making balls and placing them on a baking sheet.

5. Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F, with a rack in the lower third. Oil a baking pan. Transfer the dough onto a generously floured work surface. Cut the dough mound into two strips and break each strip into five equal pieces. Each piece should weigh 80 grams. Round each piece into a roll-shaped ball. Place the balls on the pan in even rows. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the rolls are dark brown. Place them on a rack and allow them to cool thoroughly.

Shadowcook: If your oven runs hot, place the rack in the middle. Weigh the dough. It helps to make the balls of equal weight. 40 minutes was too long for my oven. And 475 degrees is too hot. Next time, I’ll try 450 for 40 minutes. If that doesn’t work, then 425. Last word of caution: keep your hands off of them for a full hour after they come out of the oven! It makes a difference to the texture of the crumb.

I should have posted this when I first wrote about the Bittman Slow-Rise Bread a month or so ago. I forgot. Below, you’ll find a link to a Word file containing a grid of rising times. I quickly got sick of trying to calculate 18 hours and then another 2 for the NYT’s Slow-Rise Bread. If you make the bread often, the table is handy to have on hand. Mine is taped to my fridge.

Slow-Rise Dough Schedule

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In the continuing sweepstake’s for the simplest bread recipe, Cook’s Illustrated weighed in this month with its own version. Sherry gave me a copy of the article last week. The testor’s goal was to improve on the NYT’s Slow-Rise Bread. As an indicator of just how easy the recipe is, I set up the dough yesterday, even though I am suffering from the worst cold I’ve ever had — and yesterday was the nadir. It’s an interesting recipe, whose variations I look forward to exploring. In fact, I liked it so much that I went on-line and started a subscription to Cook’s.

Here’s how Cook’s set it out:

3 cups (15 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting work surface

1/4 tsp instant yeast

1 1/2 tsp table salt

3/4 cup plus 2 T water (7 ounces), at room temperature

1/4 cup plus 2 T (3 ounces) mild-flavored lager

1 T white vinegar

1. Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Using rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours.

2. Lay 12- by 18-inch sheet of parchment paper inside 10-inch skillet and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead 10 to 15 times. Shape dough into ball by pulling edge into middle. Transfer dough, seam-side down, to parchment-lined skillet and spray surface of dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with finger about 2 hours.

3. About 30 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place 6- to 8-quart heavy-bottomed Dutch oven (with lid) on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or sharp knife, make one 6-inch long, 1/2-inch deep slit along top of dough. Carefully remove pot from oven and remove lid. Pick up dough by lifting parchment overhang and lower into pot (let any excess parchment hang over pot edge). Cover pot and place in oven. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30 mins. Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 210 degrees, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove bread from pot; transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.

Here’s what I did:

I decided to use all-purpose bread flour — because I had it on hand, basically. Measuring 3 ounces of lager is a bit of a pain as you wait for the suds to subside. Might be a good idea to pour it ahead of time and let the bubbles deflate. The ingredients bound together nicely into a soft, shaggy, barely pliable ball. I let the dough rise for 18 hours.

The idea of placing parchment in a skillet strikes me as a micro-management touch. Parchment is a good idea, but the Bittman recipe’s direction to place the formed ball on to a flour- or corn-meal dusted tea towel is just as if not more sensible. I poured the fermented dough on to the work surface and kneaded it a little before I formed it into a ball.

I did as this recipe called for and slashed the top of the ball, lifted up the parchment and placed it in the Dutch oven to cook. I did NOT insert a thermometer to read the temperature — another instance of micro-management. Why would I want to break the surface of the bread and let air escape? After taking the lid off, I let it bake another 25 mins. I think the time will depend on individual ovens and how hot they run.

Last thoughts:

The result was excellent. Lots of air holes in the crumb. The crust was not quite as hard as the other two recipes, but still very chewy and good. I’m not going to use a skillet. Just plain unnecessary and overly fussy. And I don’t see why I should cut a gash in the top when I can flip the ball over into the pot and still get the ragged top. The baking temperature and times worked perfectly. I wondered if the parchment has an added advantage of protecting the bread from burning on the bottom, which means that it can be baked in the pot for a long time than the other recipes call for. I like this recipe a lot. The article also contains variations for whole-wheat, rye, and a loaf with olives and rosemary.

Update, 5/9/08: I haven’t made bread in a while, but before I took a break from it, I had made several loaves of one of the variations in the article. Now it’s the only way I make it. I adore the white version. But the whole wheat, lager and honey contribute to a fantastic loaf! I follow the recipe right through the 18 hours and then I revert to the NYT’s method of cooking (flipping the ball of dough that’s risen an additional 2 hours into a really hot Dutch oven and baking it as I described here.

Here’s the simple variation:

Follow recipe for Almost No-Knead Bread, replacing 1 cup (5 oz) all-purpose flour with 1 cup (5 oz) whole wheat flour. Stir 2 T honey into water before adding it to dry ingredients in step 1.

And for good measure, I’ll add the rye version, but notice the different measurements, one of which is undoubtedly a typo. 7 ounces is 1 3/8 cups.

Follow recipe for Almost No-Knead Bread, replacing 1 3/8 cups (7 oz) all-purpose flour with 1 1/8 (sic) cups (7 oz) rye flour. Add 2 T caraway seeds to flour mixture in step 1.

img_9664.jpgFor the past three years, when I come to Paris, I rent a flat in the vicinity of the Marais, because the possibilities for eating in are nearly as attractive as those for eating out. Guidebooks, magazines, and food guides usually point visitors in the direction of various streets around the city known for their food store — Rue Mouffetard, rue Cler, and rue Cadet come to mind. I tend to stick to less obvious choices. In the two blocks of rue Rambuteau between the Centre Pompidou and rue des Archives and the three blocks rue de la Bretagne east of rue de Temple both contain good shops for buying locally made products and not-so-locally made products. Wonderful cheese, bread, and paté are well represented on these streets.

Bread forms the foundation of any meal worth making here. Unfortunately, I do not know the name of the boulangerie I prefer on Rambuteau. Nor is the photo I’ve provided very helpful, I admit. But if you stand on the northwest corner of rue du Temple and Rambuteau and turn into the first bread store as you head west on the north side of the street, you will have found it. Over the three years I’ve been shopping here, I have come to prefer the bread in this boulangerie much more than the others on this street.

P.S. However, if you want to experience greatness in bread and croissants, convince yourself to walk an extra 10-15 mins. east on rue Rambuteau to the boulangerie Au Levain du Marais. Bear in mind that Rambuteau turns into rue des Francs-bourgeois. When you come to the intersection of rue Tournelles, turn left, and it is the red-painted boulangerie a block or so north on the right side. Steven Kaplan, whom even the French acknowledge as the man who knows more about French bread than anyone else, rated this boulangerie one of the two highest-rated bakeries in the city. Do not leave Paris without trying one of their croissants!

img_9394.jpgimg_9393.jpgfrom The New York Times, 11/21/2007.

As soon as I read this recipe, I knew what not to do. I’ve tried numerous times to inject humidity into the oven by placing pans of water and spritzing loaves once or twice during baking. And not once has the crust of a loaf baked in that manner matched the hard shell I get when I bake the dough in my Le Creuset Dutch oven as the original NYT slow-rise bread recipe calls for. When I gave this recipe a try, I didn’t even bother to try the water-pan method. I’m glad I didn’t.

Here’s the recipe as it appeared in the Wednesday food section:

1 1/2 T yeast

1 1/2 T kosher salt

6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough

Cornmeal

1. In a large bowl or plastic container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose. Cover, but not with an airtight lid. Let dough rise at room temperature 2 hours (or up to 5 hours).

2. Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two weeks. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough and cut off a grapefruit-size piece with serrated knife. Turn dough in hands to lightly stretch surface, creating a rounded top and a lumpy bottom. Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal; let rest 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it.

3. Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and turn oven to 450 degrees; heat stone at that temperature for 20 minutes.

4. Dust dough with flour, slash top with serrated or very sharp knife three times. Slide onto stone. Pour one cup hot water into broiler pan and shut oven quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely.

Yield: 4 loaves.

Variation: If not using stone, stretch rounded dough into oval and place in a greased, nonstick loaf pan. Let rest 40 minutes if fresh, an extra hour if refrigerated. Heat oven to 450 degrees for 5 minutes. Place pan on middle rack.
My first try:

As I said, I revised the recipe right off the bat. Instead of all-purpose flour, I used King Arthur’s Bread Flour. The yeast, Rapid-Rise, also derives from the Slow-Rise recipe. I let the sticky dough sit in my big plastic tub, loosely covered, for 3 hours. Then I put it in the fridge. The next day, with flour-dusted hands, I tore off one big wad of dough, shaped it into a ball by tucking pinched edges under it, and placed it on a flour-dusted tea towel. I folded the towel lightly over the ball and let it sit for 40 mins. About half an hour before baking, I put the covered Dutch oven (see Slow-Rise post) in the stove before setting the temperature to 475. When it came time to bake, working quickly, I removed the pot, took off the lid, and flipped the ball of dough smack center in the middle of the pot. I quickly covered the pot again and stuck it the oven. Then I reduced the heat to 450. The bread baked for 20 minutes, at which point I removed the cover and baked it for 20 minutes more. When it was done, I put it on a rack to cool.

While the first boule baked, I got another one going. And then I didn’t make any more bread for a week. A week later, the dough had soured beautifully. The photos of the small boule above are the last bread I made from my first batch. Great crust. Wonderful crumb. Good bite to the flavor.

Last thoughts:

When I make this again, I’m going to add malted barley powder, as I do to the Slow-Rise bread. This bread, however, couldn’t be more convenient. It sits in the fridge, ready-made practically, until you’re ready to bake.  I also want to experiment with adding whole-wheat flour to the dough.

It must be the most famous recipe I’ve ever encountered. Everywhere I’ve traveled in the past year — London, New York, Washington, D.C. — home cooks I know have heard about it and several have tried it. My friend Ann and I made four loaves in four days while I was visiting her in London at the end of March. Since then, I make the bread about once a week. It’s the sort of food that you make for yourself the way you like it. So, the following adaptation may not appeal to everyone.

After making the bread numerous times, I bought a copy of Peter Reinhardt’s Crumb & Crust. The process of making bread the laborious way involving kneading was enjoyable, but I had problems getting the same rise as I did with the Mark Bittman NYT recipe. My solution was to combine the two recipes and adjust the cooking times. Now, the bread turns out consistently good and flavorful.

Here’s the original recipe as it appeared in the NYTs:

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 1/4 tsp 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 mins.

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 mins, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 mins, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Here’s how I now make it:

3 cups bread flour
1 scant T kosher salt
1/4 tsp rapid-rise yeast
1/2 tsp malt barley powder

Combine all the dry ingredients in a food processor. Pulse three or four times. Fill a two cup measuring cup with water and have another 3/8s cup of water at hand. With the machine running, pour in 2 cups water. Watch as the flour begins to form a ball. Pour in another 1/3 cup water. Now it depends on the weather, season, and the zeitgeist. Pour in only so much more water as the dough forms a ball but is still pretty sticky. When the dough is in your hand, it should stick to it but come clean off. The ball should barely hold together. I have developed a feel for how sticky it should be for the way I like it.

Put the dough formed into a ball in a large pyrex bowl and cover with saran wrap. Set aside for 18 hours. The surface of the dough should look pockmarked; the underside riddled with holes.

After 18 hours or so, sprinkle some flour on a work surface. Quickly and lightly scoop the dough out of the bowl, making sure to wipe up all the stringy bits of dough clinging to the bowl. Form lightly into a ball and place on the work surface, covered by smooth-napped kitchen towel or plastic wrap, for 15 mins. to rest.

Place a smooth-napped kitchen towel on another work surface. Sprinkle with flour or corn meal. Pinch the resting dough on the outside edge and bring it to the center. Repeat until one side of the dough is a smooth round ball and the bottom side’s puckered ends are joined together in the middle. Place the rounded ball, puckered-side down, in the center of the kitchen towel, fold the ends of the towel to cover it, and let rest two hours.

A little more than half an hour before the two hours are up, place a big covered Le Creuset pot or other enormous dutch oven-like pot in the oven. Heat the oven to 475 for a full half hour. When the oven is sufficiently hot, act quickly. Pull the pot out to the top of the stove and shut the oven door. Take off the lid. Placing your hand under the kitchen towel, flip the dough into the pot, puckered-side facing up, and quickly cover the pot. Return pot to oven. Reduce oven temp to 450. Bake covered 20 mins. Uncover pot and bake for 15-20 mins more. It should be as dark brown as you can get it without the bottom burning.

I use tongs to remove the bread from the pot. Place the bread on a cooling rack and don’t touch it for an hour.

Last Thoughts:

Following no other bread recipe has my bread dough attained the jump and height that this dough has. It must be the steam in the pot that does it. Ever since I started adding malt barley powder, the crumb has had a subtle but richer flavor. And the airholes are consistently perfect.