Baking bread to stay in control of life

You have people who bake their own bread daily, or weekly, or at least with a frequency that never takes them to a bakery, and I admire those people very much. Baking your own bread, baking all your own bread, is in my view the pinnacle of autarkic life. Proof that you own life.

I sometimes bake bread myself, but I have never managed to build up regularity in it. The closest I came to anything resembling a bread-baking routine was when fourteen years ago I had a so-called no knead bread baked to report on that in NRC. Half the food world was under the spell of this bread at the time. A bread that you don’t have to knead and that looks and tastes just as good as a traditional pain de campagne.

It no knead bread was invented by Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan. Its fame owes it to New York Timesjournalist Mark Bittman, who made a video about it that went viral. The video shows how Lahey does something childishly simple with ordinary household flour, dried yeast, salt and water. It’s not much more than throwing everything in a bowl and stirring with one hand.

Later in the video, the baker conjures up a perfectly rustic loaf of bread from the oven. When he cuts it in half, we hear the auburn crust crack and see how elastic the oat-white crumb is. Bittman tastes and is delighted. „I’ll steal this recipe for years“, he says. To which Lahey instructs him: “Make sure that everyone has access to it.” And so it happened. Everyone got access to this magical bread.

The secret of Jim Lahey’s bread lies in the high moisture content of the dough combined with a long rising time. The moisture gives gluten room to move more freely and form a solid network. It also has eighteen hours to do so. And time, as anyone who has ever baked a sourdough bread, knows that provides flavour.

As usual, the hype around the bread you don’t have to knead eventually died down. Until corona got hold of us and everyone was baking bread like crazy, partly out of boredom of course, but undoubtedly also out of a new desire for autarky. Out of a need to control life.

Since then it has been no knead bread back on the radar of many home bakers. Also on mine. For the past week, a loaf of bread like this came out of my oven every day, I looked like a damn routine. Every time I thought: one more then. See if it gets even nicer. For example, I played with the ratio of white flour to whole-wheat spelled flour, reducing my initial fifty-fifty a little further in favor of the flour. Too much wholemeal flour will make the bread a bit cumbersome.

I added caraway seeds and it was excellent. I added even more water to see if the bread would become even more tender, but found that the dough would become completely unmanageable. And one day I decided to replace the water with beer. That became the bread that surpassed all previous breads. And that immediately put an end to my bread baking routine. I couldn’t get over this anymore. Stupid right. I know. I’m going to live never never really own.

No-knead beer bread

Jim Lahey bakes his no knead bread in a heavy cast iron pan. This creates a kind of draught-free oven in the oven. That works brilliantly, but please use proper oven gloves, because that pan will of course get very hot. (I myself use a pair of bright red suede welding gloves, which are perfect for this job.)

For 1 loaf:

300 g white wheat flour;
130 g wholemeal spelled or wheat flour;
if desired:
2 tsp caraway seeds;
1¾ tsp (13 g) fine salt;
¼ tl (1 g) instantgist;
1 bottle (300 ml) old brown beer

Also needed:

white wheat flour;
wheat bran or oatmeal;
a silicone baking mat or a piece of baking paper;
plastic foil;
dishcloth;
a heavy cast iron pan (type Creuset) with oven-proof lid;
decent oven mitts (!)

NS flour, flour, caraway seeds, yeast and salt in a bowl. Add the beer and 60 ml of water. Mix the ingredients very loosely and quickly with a spatula or clean hand to a moist, sticky dough.

Dek cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for 18 hours. You don’t have to struggle to find an extra warm spot, room temperature is fine.

After those 18 hours, when you tilt the bowl, the dough will start to ‘walk’ and show a stringy texture. Sprinkle the counter with flour. Be generous as the dough will be limp and sticky. Scrape the dough from the bowl onto the work surface.

sprinkle the dough with flour, gently pull it apart a little and fold two ends over each other. Turn the dough a quarter turn and repeat the operation. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.

sprinkle the baking mat or piece of baking paper generously with bran or oatmeal. Flour your hands and shape the dough into a ball with a few circular movements. Place the ball on the baking mat / parchment paper and also sprinkle the top with bran / oatmeal. Cover with plastic wrap and a tea towel and let the dough rise for another 2 hours.

Heat half an hour before you start baking, set the oven to the highest possible setting, preferably 250 degrees or slightly higher. Place the cast iron pan with lid in the oven so that it becomes very hot.

Haal when the dough is ready, remove the pan from the oven and remove the lid. Slide one hand under the baking mat / parchment paper, lift the dough and turn the entire handle over the pan. This is the trickiest part of the no-knead bread. The dough is still sticky and may not do what you want right away. In addition, as mentioned, the pan is VERY HOT. Shake the pan gently if necessary, but don’t make a big deal out of it if the dough is not exactly in the middle. Everything will be fine during baking.

Leg Put the lid back on the pan and let the dough bake for 30 minutes. Then remove the lid and bake the bread for another 15 to 20 minutes until nicely browned.

Kieper Remove the bread from the pan and let it cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.