All of my Daring Bakers Challenges are compiled here.
Upon seeing this month's challenge, I cringed that I would have to deal with my old foe, yeast. Memories all my failed struggles came rushing back: The over-risen doughs, the leaden hunks of complex carbohydrates, and oh, how can I forget the panettone that overflowed while baking and had me spending Christmas Eve cleaning the oven. I decided, "in Vancouver, good bread is so easy to buy!"
My pants on fire, I wrote a quick thank you note to this month's host, Tanna from My Kitchen in Half-Cups, saying how much I looked forward to completing her challenge. Well, I must apologize for doubting our host, especially because the outcome is just delicious:
Few of the good breads I've bought in my fair city comes close to this bread. It is tender, and my Yukon Golds really come through not only in taste but especially in the deep colour the crumb acquires. And the smell, the aroma of the yeasted dough as it bakes - is all at once exhilarating and comforting.
It is fascinating to deconstruct what happens during bread-making. Kneading of flour and water results in the formation of gluten strands. One can feel the dough change in texture - it becomes more pliant - and temperature under one's hand. Just as amazing is the fact that the yeast eats the carbohydrates and ferments, releasing carbon dioxide. This gas is then trapped by the developed gluten fibers. After the dough is baked, the gas is gone but the structure remains.
For all my exultant paeans now, I must admit that making this bread was not all love. Particularly, this dough is incredibly sticky. A requirement of this challenge was to knead by hand. The dough was so tacky, however, it felt as though it was kneading my hand. I tried to maintain a mantra "push, fold, turn" while kneading, to no avail. I suppose it would have been easier if I added more flour. However, I knew that my likely pitfall would be to add too much flour and produce a heavy bread, so I decided to take the extreme opposite by trying to not add much flour while kneading.
In the future, when I am unfettered from the hands-on requirement of this month's challenge, I know that I will be able to recruit my trusty Kitchen Aid. However, the dough would still need to be shaped and panned and the prospect of dealing with the incredibly sticky mass still loomed so I was not keen on keeping this recipe. Then I had a flash of insight. About exactly a year ago, the blogging world was caught in a no-knead bread frenzy that was sparked by an article written by Mark Bittman in the NY Times. Writing about this phenomenon a year later, Nick Fox of the NY Times states:
"The response to Mr. Bittman’s article was so fervid you would have thought he’d revealed a foolproof way to pick winning lottery numbers. It was a sign of how desperately people want to bake at home, and how painfully aware they are of their limitations."
Next time, I will knead the still knead the dough - its water to flour proportion is not high enough allow gluten development to spontaneously occur in 12 hours as is the case with no-knead doughs - but use my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and then adopt the shaping and baking method used in the article, which is demonstrated in this video:
To test this baking method, I took some dough left over from the first rise and placed it onto parchment scattered with plenty of cornmeal. I then coaxed this dough into a rough log by lifting the edges of the parchment and left it to rise a second time while pre-heating a two-quart Pyrex casserole dish and its lid in the oven. Later, I slid the dough into the pot and baked it covered for 30 minutes and uncovered for 15. The result is shown in the next picture.
This loaf has the homey appeal of artisan bread and has the kind of crust that shatters under one's bite and a crumb that is chewy and moist. This is rather serendipitous! When I make this recipe on my time, I will use my Kitchen Aid for the initial kneading and again aiming for a slack and tacky dough, then adopt the handling and baking style shown in the NY Times video.
Please check out all the other Daring Bakers' tender potato bread. There are truly remarkable renditions of different loafs, focaccias, and buns.
- Doneness can be tricky to judge. An instant-read thermometer is probably the surest way: insert into the middle of the loaf and a reading of 190°F to 210°F is desired.
- A cracking crust - a desired but elusive quality in breads - can be achieved when moisture is introduced into the baking bread. Professionals employ steam-injection ovens. Home-users can set up a water bath, or drop ice cubes onto a pre-heated baking sheet placed on a lower oven shelf, or spray water on the bread with a spritzer.
- One mistake I made - and this might be visible in the third photo on this page - is I cut into the loaf before it has cooled completely. This results in a damp crumb (even mushy if the loaf is cut very early).
- Baking 911 continues to be an indispensable website for me, especially during this challenge.
- Rose Levy Beranbaum was also intrigued by the no-knead technique and has expanded on the recipe in her blog for more flavour - which may potentially address David Lebovitz' criticism of the method.
- Addendum (November 27, 2007). I used the minimum amounts of flour in the recipe and I kneaded the mass accordingly. Of this, 2/3 went in the pan then baked in the usual way and 1/3 was used in my free-form experiment. The dough was slack, sticky, and soft (really similar to the dough in the video). Parchment paper and cornmeal helped a lot in shaping it (by lifting sides of the paper). I let it rise a second time, covered in parchment. The oven, pot and lid were pre-heated to 450°F. I dropped the dough into the pot, covered it for 30 minutes and uncovered for 15. The internal temperature of the bread was 200°F.