Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Slow Bread

24 hour bread

I've been playing around with a method of breadmaking that's new to me, but apparently centuries old, thanks to reading about it first on Lauredhel's blog. After doing a lot of digging around online, I found not only the NYT article that Lauredhel referenced, from Mark Bittman and Jim Lahey, but pages and PAGES of discussion of the technique by earnest and dedicated bread bakers all over the world. This article, when it hit in 2006 (I am RIGHT ON TOP OF CURRENT EVENTS, YO), created quite the stir, apparently. Probably the best and most thorough discussions I found were in the comments at TheFreshLoaf.com.

After reading and reading and reading, and watching the video on the Times' site more than once, I took the plunge. This bread requires literally 5 minutes of actual labor, and about 20 hours of waiting. If you like rustic breads, and authentic-tasting French boules (Bella and I do, Alex doesn't), then this bread is for you. It's not a wimpy, soft bread. It's a beautiful, golden-crusted, chewy loaf with plenty of texture in the thick, crispy crust. I'll let you go to the Times page and read the recipe, watch the video, and then check out the discussion at The Fresh Loaf. But basically I will tell you that you combine flour, salt, water, a TINY bit of yeast, barely mix it together, then leave it to sit for 18 hours, during which time it bubbles and percolates and makes magic in the form of gluten, and rises impressively. At that point, you don't knead--you just take out the dough and fold it over 2 or 3 times, then leave it alone for another couple of hours. It will feel like neglect, but it will taste so good!

The "twist" is that you'll be baking this bread at high heat--450 to 500F--inside a covered, heavy pot. In the video, Jim Lahey used a le Creuset Dutch oven, so that's what I used. (I have since read that le Creuset does NOT recommend using their cookware in the oven at such a high heat, because it could crack or otherwise be damaged, but I've seen a whole lot of people doing it.) The recipe lends itself ideally to "campfire cooking," or even using a cast-iron Dutch oven in a hot outdoor grill. There are dozens of ways of doing it, but the keys appear to be the slow rise time and the introduction of the dough into a HOT pot with a HOT lid. To keep from damaging the plastic handle on my Dutch oven, I covered mine with a le Creuset skillet that was actually designed to do double-duty as a pot lid.

bread

So far, I've only tried the white flour version, pictured above, and another test of 100% whole wheat flour. I used wheat bran to dust the tea towel, and had no problems with the dough sticking (it's a VERY sticky dough), as did many people who used flour or cornmeal to dust the tea towels. The whole wheat version didn't have the oven spring of the white flour loaf, but that was to be expected, since I didn't add any vital wheat gluten to the flour or cut it with any white flour. It still tasted DARN good, and had the thick, crispy crust of the white loaf.

wheat

Check out the links, and try this bread. You really have nothing to lose but 5 minutes of your time (if that)! And just so you know, this is a loaf that cries out for a flavored olive oil with roasted garlic bits to dip it in, so have some of that ready. Also, use a bit more salt than the recipe calls for.

16 comments:

  1. I use an old enamelled Le Creseut oval dutch oven, with the handle covered in foil. This hasn't cracked yet despite doing lots of batches at around 230 C (445 F).

    Your bread looks amazing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I really want to make this, but first I need a pot and lid that are oven safe.

    ReplyDelete
  3. freshloaf.com is run by the husband of one of my LJ friends (dstroy).

    I'd love to try this someday also, but I too lack the right pot :(

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hmmm. Your bread looks so amazing. good work.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Oooooh, I've been wanting to try this recipe since I found it a few weeks ago (see, you're not the only one who's behind the times!). Glad to see someone I know and trust has had success with it. Wonder if I could use a Corning Ware casserole dish and lid to bake this, as I don't have a dutch oven or any kind of metal pot that goes in the oven.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Okay, now even I can do that. Can't wait to give it a go.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thank you for this post! My hubby is French so he is picky about his bread, but this looks fabulous! Can't wait to give it a try.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I guess I'm gonna have to try this again. I've done it 3 times and it looked beautiful, but it was so chewy that it caused my TMJ to flair up. DH opined that it tasted just like the bread he has had in Europe, so I guess it was successful.

    I don't think it's a good idea to use Corning ware. That's a pretty high temp. You should check with the manufacturer first.

    ReplyDelete
  9. That loaf in the first picture is beautiful! I love bread and would gladly forego most sweets for an extra slice of tasty rustic bread.

    I've got a Le Creuset pot, and I'm willing to give it a whirl, but I soooo suck at baking! (Actually, I should say that I am sooooo afraid of baking!)

    ReplyDelete
  10. After making - and kneading - bread the past 2 days, I've been putting serious thought into finding the "Mother Earth News" recipe that featured this bread.

    Now I'm incentivized!!!

    The good news is that I've got now 2 pizza doughs in my freezer. :)

    ReplyDelete
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