Why yes, I kind of do think that I can bake. I’m no Nick Malgieri or Dorie Greenspan. (Know them? You should. I love them.) But I can and do put together desserts and baked goods that while they are not about to rival the pastries at The Chocolate Mill in Glens Falls or Mrs. London’s in Saratoga they certainly surpass those on offer in the supermarket bakery departments in my local Price Chopper and Hannaford.
But for the longest time while I confidently made all manner of pies, cakes, cookies, scones and biscuits I had a fear. Of yeast. Bread just seemed like something other people made. Grandmothers with wisdom and experience, hands strong and rough from years of shaping their daily bread. There seemed too much mystery in the alchemy of flour, yeast, salt and water. And then I read an article in the NY Times that…well, I want to say changed my life but that sounds a little dramatic, no? I read an article that opened my eyes to how easy bread making could be. Jim Laheys’ No-Knead Bread. You must be familiar with it? I think everyone is by this time.
It’s three ingredients, flour, yeast and salt that when combined with what almost seems like too much water form a very slack dough that’s not kneaded but left to rise unattended at room temperature for at least twelve hours, but preferably eighteen. The dough is then quickly shaped and left to rise again for two more hours. It’s baked in a very hot oven in a heavy, covered dish. Le Creuset or something similar works well for the baking. When the bread is done baking you are left with a crisp loaf with an airy interior full of holes. It’s very much like the pricey artisan breads you see in better bakeries for too much money.
Then for Christmas I was given a copy of the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The premise of this bread recipe is similar to the No-Knead bread but differs in that you mix a large batch of dough, again not kneading it, let it rise at room temperature until it doubles and then begins to fall and then you refrigerate the dough until you’re ready to use it. When you’re ready to use it you pull off a hunk of dough, flour and shape it and let it rise at room temperature for an hour or so. You bake the loaf on a baking stone without a cover, with a pan in the oven that you throw a cup of water into to create steam which helps the bread rise quickly. In the end you have a quite yummy loaf of crusty bread which my family loves.
Now that I have mastered both bread baking techniques (and moved on to cinnamon buns- yum!) I’m not sure which one I prefer. The Jim Lahey loaf seemed to have a thinner, more crackly crust than the Artisan in Five loaf. They both have great interiors but the Jim Lahey seemed to have a lighter crumb, which I enjoyed just a little bit more. I’m thinking I may need to do some comparison baking. Strictly measured ingredients, side by side taste testing. For now I will continue to enjoy my Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day loaves because the dough is already in the fridge but I think I see a bake off in my future. Do you bake bread?