Monday, February 15, 2010

Bread in a Pot, or In Which I am now Fully Obsessed with Lahey's Method.

Yesterday, I finally was able to bake the loaf of bread that dreams are made of. Airy yet substantial, crusty yet soft, Lahey's bread is truly a delicious loaf - and one that even novice bakers can understand and accomplish easily. Really, my baking began 24 hours prior when I mixed up the no-knead dough from the Jim Lahey method outlined in his recent book, My Bread. I had been anticipating this loaf since last year, when I made the library hold. I know there are many Lahey recipes floating around in cyberspace, but for some reason, I wanted his words, in his book, in my brain before I embarked what I knew would become yet another step in bread baking obsession.

But first, I had to make a stop: Bliffert Hardware, adjacent to the Alterra Coffee complex on Humboldt. Sasa and I were right there so she suggested I stop in, and I was so glad I did. It is a nice, manageable hardware that is bright and well organized. I was going to just rig the lid of my LeCreuset oven, since I didn't order a stainless steel handle. When I set foot in the hardware, I had thought I would get a screw the same size as the LeCreuset handle screw only longer, and then screw on a couple of bolts to help assist me in lifting. The kind hardware store man (and his young son) got me set up with a metal cupboard door handle which was even better, and only cost me $3.50. I know that he has saved me frustration and probably burns, so I thank him heartily.

A stainless handle from LeCreuset will run about $10-15, and of course will fit properly, but I like my handle. I poked an awl through a layered piece of aluminum foil and slipped it through before screwing on the handle, just to ensure I'd have a nice tight seal. Even though there is still a bit of play in the actual handle, it is in no danger of falling off.

Handle complete, I moved on to the dough. I only had a little bit of wheat bran left, but oat bran to spare, so I dusted a towel with both before letting the dough accomplish its final rise. On closer inspection of the directions, I should have formed the dough into a more uniform loaf, but I was happy for my first go at it.

Within 2 hours, it was a huge mass of dough - nearly the diameter of the pot it was going into! Next time I will be sure to tuck it into more of a controlled shape. I will not complain, since this was my reward a mere 45 minutes after it took its nap in a 475 degree oven:

Uncannily looking like the examples in the book, I knew the time passing before I could slice into it was going to positively drag. Even though I wasn't hungry in the slightest, good bread has that completely mysterious way of arousing a deep hunger that you didn't know existed. I am absolutely certain that I would never be a participant in any diet that included low-carbs or no-carbs...

I ate, and I'll be honest, 3 good sized slices with some Wisconsin cheddar cheese while standing in front of the stove and examining its custardy interior (in the acidic light that renders close up photography unbefitting). In my opinion, Artisan Bread in Five is still good bread indeed (especially if you want to have it mixed up and waiting in the refrigerator for you to use on a whim...), but this bread has a completely different texture and personality - like an older and wiser cousin. In part, I think, due to the small amount of yeast and the long time spent soaking up the atmosphere before the dough is actually baked.

One problem I always have with homemade bread is how to store it. I know that it should not be put in plastic, and should be stored cut side down on a non-porous surface. I know this, but can't figure out how people either consume enough bread in one day so that storage isn't a problem, or how they enjoy eating that bread when all the air involved inevitably enhances the staling process. While I love a good panzanilla, some fat homemade croutons, or even toast, I can't very well go on eating aged bread every other day - I like a loaf to make it until at least day 4.

Wishing I knew all of the answers, I knew that this loaf was too special to squirrel away into my kitchen cupboard, inappropriately stashed in an open plastic bag - my version of a compromise. I decided to try a new method: I put it back into my lidded cast iron pot, and was beyond excited when I checked it today and it was perfect. The crust was still good (not fresh out of the oven good, but certainly not "I took it out of a plastic bag" good), and the cut edge was not even dried out. I'm excited to check on the progress again tomorrow, but since there is only a half loaf remaining, I'm betting it won't make it through another day. Because I couldn't make toast for breakfast today, I set my sights on lunch.

An accidental lunch at that, since I took a leftover Spiced Roast Chicken Breast, which I finely chopped and added it (Economy Spread style) to a bit of mayonnaise, a generous squeeze of lemon and a handful of walnuts. The best and easiest sandwich filling, and perfectly deserving of such amazing bread. I can't believe I never thought of making it before, most likely because usually there are not many Spiced Roast Chicken leftovers! I cut thick slices of my bread and was happy at the lack of jaw power it takes to enjoy this stuff... it's a really perfect bread, like I said.

You can find Lahey's basic bread recipe here at the NY Times, though the oven temp is higher in the book for the same ingredient list (475 degrees instead of 450 degrees). With my second Lahey success, you certainly know that there are going to be more My Bread experiments showing up here very soon. I'm sure I don't have to relate again how amazed I still am that just 4 or 5 casually thrown together ingredients can result in something so worthwhile and delicious. I'm a sucker for trying crazy complicated things, but on a day-to-day basis, I really enjoy the ability to produce quality homemade things that are simple, tasty and reasonably priced. Lahey fills the bill on all counts, and forever will hold a place in my heart.


  1. Mmmmmmmm... that bread looks delicious! Bread is definitely my achilles' heel. I love all types, but a loaf like yours is my absolute favorite. Your description makes me weak-at-the-knees and makes me want to run out to my local bakery and get some loaf that is similar.

    I thank you, but my waistline ~ not so much...

    OH, great solution to the top handle

  2. I LOVE that handle! Good call, Ms. R! The bread looks positively fantastic... I think I'm developing a crush on Lahey.

  3. I have been wanting to try this bread for the longest! It looks great. I love how you rigged your LeCreuset.

  4. Looks great! I never heard of this. I will have to try it. I love fresh bread, and no-knead? A dream. The chicken salad lood delish, too!

  5. I am so glad to find out that there are others out there who have become completely obsessed with simple artisan bread making recently. I stumbled on this recipe about three weeks ago and have been driving my wife nuts by baking a never ending series of beautiful and delicious loafs. Having never baked a thing before in my life I am confused and happy (and gaining weight).


Communication is a good thing, most of the time...