Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Ugly Loaf

Last week, I started another Bertha  so I could experiment with no-knead breads. Breads that lack a starter have no soul, so as tempting as the original no-knead bread recipe is, I opted to follow this variation instead.I used 6oz white bread flour, 3oz rye, 1.5oz buckwheat, and 4oz of Full Belly Farm's Sonora whole wheat flour.

The long lead time turned out to be more annoying than a traditional pain au levain, mostly because I timed it wrong and started at 10 in the morning, meaning that phase 2 should have been started at 4 AM the next day. That wasn't going to happen! I banked on the fact that the kitchen temperature drops dramatically overnight, thus slowing fermentation. At best, I was expecting a bread more reminiscent of American sourdough instead of a pain au levain, but I carried through.

True to all the warnings, the bread dough, measured and mixed in 5 minutes, was really, really sticky due to the high water percentage. The theory behind the no-knead bread is that the high level of hydration combined with the long resting time results in the gluten aligning, which is the same thing achieved by kneading traditional bread dough. When I woke up at 6 AM to shape the loaf, bleary eyes and lack of coffee made for a comical bakery session. Well, comical to anyone watching (the dogs), but not to me at the time.

The boy and I tag teamed the process, so he was in charge of baking the bread, and he got the enjoyment of baking bread smells (my favorite part) and being the first one to cut into it. I was pestering him all day while I was at work, asking about the crumb structure, the flavor, and the overall baking process. He emailed me back with one word responses ("good", "fine"), and finally stopped responding to me at all. I had to wait until I arrived home to judge for myself.

The crumb structure was holey and beautiful. That much cannot be denied. However, loaf was the exact shape of the bottom of my Dutch oven, and there wasn't much oven spring. This is due in part to the heavy flours I incorporated into the dough, but I have made beautiful loaves with dense flours before. The crust was almost scorched on the bottom, too, so this was one f-u-g-l-y loaf.

But how did it taste, you ask? Lovely! Slightly tangy due to my starter, slightly sweet thanks to the honey, and slightly nutty due to the whole wheat and buckwheat.  The boy was stoked that he had baked his first loaf of bread, and I was able to coax a few more words out of him about it. He'd probably make it again, although he did complain that the instructions I sent him were "a novel".

My conclusion is this: if you are intimidated by bread making, try this! If you aren't intimidated, try it once and see what you think! It's so nontraditional that you have to try it at least once to see what all the buzz is about. Will I make it again? Probably not. This has gotten my bread making mojo back, though, so expect too many pictures of bread in the next few weeks...


  1. We went on a crazy no-knead bread kick this winter, and out of the 10 or so loaves we made only one came out like this. I did the same thing, tried switching to a heavier flour, but I didn't get nearly as lucky as you! Ours was very dense and chewy. We eventually figured it out: I'd left a kitchen window open overnight.

  2. Interesting! I'm still not sure if I want to make this again, but my brain has been churning with all types of tweaks. Have you made regular bread before? I think it's easier, so long as you have a mixer to do the kneading.



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