From the Last Person on Earth to Try No Knead Bread

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

I’m probably the last person in the world to have taken to Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread, I know.  I made a few attempts back when Mark Bittman first wrote about it in 2006, but they were all failures.  I have no idea why, but they were. (Bittman revised it two years later.)

So, after additional failures with Peter Reinhart’s bread recipes, I decided to give Lahey another try.  Please note that the common element among my attempts at the three recipe-writers – Bittman, Lahey, and Reinhart - is me, so I think the evidence clearly suggests that my baking is deficient rather than their recipes. 

Happily, my latest cracks at Lahey’s method were far more successful.  There have been many, many comments about Lahey’s recipe all over the internet, so I’ll keep my comments to a minimum.  In fact, I have only two contributions of my own.

One, whole wheat needs water.  Lahey’s whole-wheat bread recipe is actually 300 grams of white bread flour to 100 grams of whole-wheat bread flour. I’ve been slowly attempting to increase the amount of whole wheat; right now, I am at 250 grams of white to 150 grams of whole wheat.  I’ve noticed that I need to add additional water (20-30 grams) to properly hydrate the dough.  If you’re interested in increasing the amount of whole-wheat flour, make a couple of loaves of white-only, until you have a good sense of how wet the dough should be.  You should then be able to increase the whole wheat and water with confidence.

Two, shaping is key.  After the 18-hour rising, Lahey advises that you shape the dough into a ball.  The accompanying picture, however, suggests something different.  What I’ve found is that if you lay the dough out, pat it into a rough square, and pull on each end and fold it into the middle (I do each side at least twice), you greatly increase the surface tension.  It’s very similar to method of shaping ciabatta, which is another “wet” dough.  The shape of your dough, and final loaf in turn, will be more square than circle, but I find that that has its own appeal. 

Ultimately, Lahey has given me a recipe I can easily make during the week.  I don’t think twice about making a loaf (or two) after work on any given day.  For home cooking, what more could you want?


Posted by Kevin on 02/01 at 02:19 PM

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