Sunday, February 10, 2008

Adventures in Bread-Baking

I finally got fed up enough with the outrageous price of fresh bread in bakeries. Erich is a sucker for Firehook's bread in particular. But we consider it a luxury that we rarely indulge in.
However, over the past several weeks, I've been following the RealityTour of no-knead bread making, partially based on a recipe in the New York Times that I had actually bookmarked MONTHS ago. His successful experiments were very inspiring!
So last weekend, I picked up some yeast and got down to business. Unfortunately, after letting it rise for about 16 hours, I decided to read through the rest of the recipe and suddenly remembered why it was I had never tried the recipe before - it requires a cast-iron pot w/ lid or dutch oven. Neither of which live in my kitchen. Doh! So about 2 hours before the dough was supposed to be moved to such a vessel, I started frantically researching for alternative containers.
Results were a little inconclusive, but deep within this site I found a couple of reader comments from people who had improvised using oven-safe pots and mismatching lids (in one case, it was simply an inverted oven-safe bowl. So I plunged ahead with renewed confidence in my spaghetti pot and metal lid (Calphalon says its oven-safe up to 450).

By that afternoon, my improvisation rewarded me with an awesome boule of fresh bread. Until then, I had only ever baked bread in a loaf pan and while adequate, the loaves always reminded me of sub-par commercial sandwich bread from the grocery store. It never had the great crust that bakery-bread has (all 3 times that I actually baked bread).
However, not wanting to be left out, I had Erich pick up an inexpensive enamel-coated, cast-iron dutch oven from a big-box store during his errands later that day. A dutch oven has been on my wish list for quite a long time, but their expense was always a deterrent. But then I read some encouraging reviews of the Lodge products and I decided that I probably won't cook with it often enough to even warrant a pricey version.
I got to try her out this afternoon for a 2nd loaf of bread and the results are yummy! Besides the container, the only modification I made was to shorten the time it bakes without the lid. Makes the crust a little more manageable - last week's loaf sounded a bit like a hockey puck as I turned it out onto the cooling rack. It seems like the cast-iron pot helped the loaf puff up a little more in the middle which is plus in my book.

I'd say the biggest challenge is to not eat the whole loaf in one day. It's really a weekend activity so if we run out by Monday, we might be tempted to get our fix by raiding the bakery just to make it through the rest of the week.


claire said...

Oh goodness! So many new posts since I last logged on! Are you going to be baking bread again anytime soon? I'd love to come and help/learn from your genius!

princess said...

i would also love to learn (ok, I would love you to teach Matty) to bake yumminess of bread form. We have a Dutch oven (well French oven). Come to Philly and bake us bread? We will make calzones in return.

Erich said...