Friday, December 26, 2008

Breadmaking for the lazy.

I find myself in Connecticut, separated from the 'Ley-made sourdough starter but with all this bread-making time on my hands.  But, of course, also, I am commitedly lazy.  Luckily, there is a solution: no-knead bread.  Even better: eight-hour no-knead bread.  NEVER COMPROMISE.

This recipe is delicious and easy, and makes a non-overwhelming, small loaf.  I will write it up in 7th grade lab report form.  Also, I'm converting the original blog post's recipe into numbered step form because that is easier for me to refer to.

This bread will be delicious, and not involve kneading.

1.5 C bread flour (we used King Arthur)
2.25 tsp active dry yeast (one packet)
1 tsp salt
0.75 C water at room temperature
a sprinkle of cornmeal
Oil (we used tea oil, but olive oil or vegetable oil is probably fine)

1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, yeast, and salt.
2. Stir in water.  "Dough should be shaggy and a little wet."  There is no better descriptor in the world for this consistency than "shaggy and a little wet."
3. Place in a large, well-oiled bowl and cover in plastic wrap.  Let rest for 8-10 hours (like while you sleep.)
4. The dough should be dotted with bubbles.  Turn out onto a floured surface and form into a ball (you may need lots of flour.)
5. Let rest for 15 minutes uncovered.
6. Cover dough with a dishtowel or other cloth (not a terrycloth towel for some reason.)  I think you might should flour the cloth too.  Let rise for 2 hours.
7.  30 minutes before the 2 hours is up, place your dutch oven/casserole/covered oven-safe pot into the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.
8. At the appropriate, preheated time, remove the receptacle (I used a casserole) from the oven and sprinkle the bottom with cornmeal.  Place the loaf inside and bake for 25 minutes covered.
9. Then bake for another 20 minutes uncovered.

Results and Analysis

Eight-hour no knead bread, exterior.

Eight-hour no knead bread, interior.

It all turned out to plan.  The crust was a tiny bit on the chewy side, but whatevs.

Pretty great for a first try, and it was wicked easy.  I'd recommend everybody to try it.  Next time, will try spraying with water while it's in the oven to see if that will make the crust crustier.  May also try mixing in other kinds of flour.

Next time: a cautionary tale on impatience and sourdough!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Yogurt is not bread in the same way that bread is bread

But, if you bring milk to almost boil for 10 minutes without boiling it ever, stirring pretty regular, and cool it to between 110 and 115 degrees and keep it there for 12 hours, after adding about a brimming handful of yogurt, you will end up with as much yogurt at you had milk originally. It doesn't matter if it's nonfat milk. I know what you're thinking. Keep an eye on things or you will have either cheese, sour milk, or poison at the wrong temperatures. I don't have any pictures for you or myself.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Amount of Starter

8% of bread-mass: roughly 12-hour rise time, depending on temperature of dough and amount of starter fermentation.

30% of bread-mass: roughly 2-hour rise time, depending....

You can ballpark from there. And test it first: for a while my breads were rising really really fast, and I had to just add about a tablespoon of starter to 5 cups of flour to get a reasonable rise (remember, more rising time means more flavor—of course, it can go terribly wrong, and you end up with a very sour loaf, but then, my starter never seems to yield much sourness).


50% hydration: a fairly strong, dense loaf that will hold its shape and will be easy to score. It holds fixin's like olives and raisins really well and makes good, sturdy sandwiches even when sliced thin. This dough won't stick much, so it'll be really easy to knead. But the final product can also be a little tough.

100% hydration: a dough like a thick batter that tends to have a large, irregular, gummy crumb. You have to pour it onto the stone and don't even think about scoring it. This is a light, good dipping bread with an incredible oven-spring (the rise that happens after you put it in the oven and before a crust forms) because the high water content means a lot of evaporating water that pushes up the loaf along with the gasses of the hyperactive dying yeasts. Dough like this can be really hard to work with, but if you use oil or water to keep your hands not-sticky, and fold instead of knead, then you'll be okay. Wet doughs don't need as much kneading, since gluten-chains form more easily in a high-hydration environment.

You can ballpark from there.


More salt means a longer rise, since salt kills yeast. About a teaspoon is plenty for a 5 c. loaf. You can ballpark from there, remembering that more rise time means more flavor, but you don't want to kill the yeast. I haven't played to much with this aspect.

Proofing Temperature

Above about 85º Fahrenheit, you're starting to kill your yeast; below about 60º, you get good bacterial development with retarded yeast development, which means more sour flavor. Here's a nice graph that someone else made:

The author's conclusion is that higher temperatures yield better bacteria flavor, because when the yeast starts to get past they dying point, the bacteria really take off. The trouble is, I've heard that these higher temperatures also can produce "off" flavors, so I don't know that it's the best idea. I'll try it, but for now I like good long rises, though I don't normally put the bread in the fridge

Putting bread in the fridge can roughly quintuple the rising time. Use your own discretion.

Baking Temperature

A high temperature means a bigger oven spring, and a darker crust. Depending on the size and shape of the loaf (higher surface-area-to-volume and lower weight values means faster, higher-heat bakes).

A long, thin, light baguette can bake as high as 550º.

A very large, dense boule can bake as low as 325º.

You can ballpark from there, but I generally make smaller, 2 c. batards that bake nicely at 450º

Softness! Tenderness!

Oil or Eggs will tenderize the dough, which is especially nice for whole wheat flours, which seem to toughen doughs. 1/4 cup of oil or 1 egg will do the trick for a 4 c. loaf, but of course these things will also flavor the dough, so you want to be selective. They'll also make the crust less crusty. Also, oil sometimes makes a loaf harder to shape, because in getting a nice tight loaf, you need to form a good seam, and the oil can keep the loaf from sticking to itself.


Bread flour has more protein (more strength and gluten power) and pastry flour less protein (less toughness, more lightness, very little rising power) than all-purpose flour, which sits in the middle, and can do all jobs reasonably well. They're all roughly the same price, so it's not a huge burden to get one of each if you think you're going to use it, and have the storage space.

Everything but white flour loses flavor as it oxidizes and goes rancid (especially whole wheat) if you don't either use it right away or put it in the freezer. As far as I can tell, the freezer doesn't affect taste.

Wheat flour, like most non-white flours, seems to be thirstier and denser, so needs more water, and you might be selective about your expectations for the loaves you make (some of my big irregular crumb loaves turn out kinda weird with whole wheat flour, like they don't hold together int he same way, whereas my denser, fruit and nut or olive loaves really benefit from the hearty flavor and texture of whole wheat).

Rye makes a more "sour" sourdough, and in small amounts is just a nice flavor.

But! most flours don't have gluten in them, so if you add too much, your loaf won't rise properly. Rye, buckwheat, teff (I think), shouldn't make up more than about a quarter of the loaf, I think (I mean, experiment with this and prove me wrong!).

I'll make a list of the haves and the have-nots at some point, along with flavory attributes.

that's it for now!

Starter Instructions

I was going to smear some starter on black velvet and take a pic under UV light, but the Baltimorioles' photo was perfect enough. . .

The plan was to give them some starter, then the information to upkeep the starter in the manner to which it has become accustomed, but I let it slip, and I'm hoping that their starter isn't dead or poisonous yet.

Though I didn't get the original recipe from Sourdough Home, it still houses the best and most sensitively explained methods for making and keeping-up a starter, as far as I can tell, along with other sound bread advice:

But if you can't tear yourself, away from the pics here, I will explain:

To start:

Add equal amounts (by weight, where flour weighs roughly half as much, in a sifted, spooned cup, where a sifted, spooned cup is a king's measurement cup of flour that has been sifted into a separate container, then spooned into the cup, due to the tendency for flour to get compacted when you scoop it—frankly, I don't have the sifter, scale, money or patience necessary to do much of this right now, so a great deal of fudgework can be applied to all of the recipes on the site, starting now, until I tell you personally that I have acquired the all-of-the-above to begin sifting and spooning my flour. Though, keep in mind that I spoon my bags of flour habitually and compulsively in my own, non-baking time) (and you can use as little as a tablespoon of flour for this) (and actually, you don't need to be that exact with this stage in the process anyway, but it'll be nice to know in the future that you have a 100% hydration starter, so you can be really certain about the hydration—and repeatability—of future recipes) (also, I'm really excited for the day when blogger allows footnotes, rather than just expansive parenthetical tangents) flour and water to a very very clean container. Plastic is okay, but not preferable, due to its porousness; it is a grease magnate!

So you let it sit for a day. You eye it suspiciously for long stretches, rocking with a shotgun on your thigh, though your chair is not actually a rocker. When you look away, the yeasts rappel in from the heavens and start an insurrection. They foment change, they work with certain agents in the bacterial underground and gain a following among the abject margins; they have a week before you selectively kill them.

So you double the amount of flour and water in there, the second day, to feed them, to lull them, and then cast half into the trash. Right now it's a melee of undesirables, the resistance still underground, so you could get very sick from tasting the mixture at this point, each drop a game of Russian roulette on the tongue. Seriously, don't taste it; it will smell terrible anyway, most likely. And while you're doing all this, make sure to keep the sides of the container relatively clean, because if starter gets on the sides, it will die and mold, and then the mold will infect the rest. Bad news.

Repeat second-day activity of doubling and casting-out until a week has passed from when you first played god with this little world. By now, your careful encouragement of the bourgeoisie of saccharomyces and lacto-bacilli has kept them afloat over an unincentivised, impoverished, pitted-against-self underclass of protein-eating bacterial, rival fungi, and other species of life vilified because you have a specific purpose in mind. You summer in the Bahamas; you use a narwhal tusk to clean your fingernails, and you should also be getting a sweet-sour "sourdough" smell from the starter at this point. Ooooh! I forgot, make sure you cover the starter enough so it doesn't dry out, but leave enough of an air vent so it doesn't start to smell to alcohol-y; the yeasts produce alcohol when they eat the starches in the flour, the bacteria eats both the starch and alcohol, producing acid, lactic and otherwise—I could be wrong on this; please correct me in a castigate, pedantic and/or patronizing tone—but! if there's too much alcohol, something happens... maybe it kills the yeast, who at that point would be swimming in what amounts to their own feces? I mean, how would you like it?

So now you have starter, but you don't want to feed it every day, because that produces a lot of waste (btw, if you have extra starter, you can make sourdough pancakes, English muffins, crumpets, etc etc no problem, but you maybe don't want to have to do that all the time). So, though some people say you should wait a month before putting it in the fridge, so you've made sure to cultivate the proper culture in there, I have no problem with popping it in the fridge and just feeding it every five days or so. Sometimes, if it looks like there isn't enough activity, or isn't a sour enough smell or taste, so you think you might be right back where you started, with a bucket of wet flour instead of starter, you should leave it out all night, and let it get nice and bubbly again before popping it back in the fridge. Again, cleanliness is key. You don't have to be super-anal—ahem—but you want to transfer it to a new container every week or two, just to keep things on the up-and-up. I use Tupperware, because you can sit the lids loosely, then cover them with a towel, and it lets just the right amount of air into the container. When you're making the starter to begin with, you might just cover it with a towel, because good ventilation is more important at that stage.


So now you just keep things clean and do the double/discard motion every once in a while. but if you're like me, you'll compulsively make bread instead of attending to your responsibilities, and you'll find the need to replenish your starter, rather than cast anything out. In that case, just double your flour/water mixture, and leave it out all night. You're set!

Also, if you're going on vacation, as I am soon, you can throw the whole thing into the freezer (after a feeding, so you know it's real healthy, mind you), and thaw it out when you get back.

Bad signs:

If you get mold, gross smells, changes in color or anything weird, there are ways to revive the starter, but until I have experience with that I won't recommend anything. Sourdough Home has some of what sounds like good advice for that kind of thing, so you can go there for answers.

And if you want any starter, let me know, if you don't want to go through the whole process. I have some in new york and will be in LA with some in a few days. I mean, if someone really wants some in India soon, I might offer, but I think customs and security would have issues with me just waltzing on the plane with a bucket full of bacteria, and I'm definitely not going to swallow a condom full of starter just so you could make bread.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


This thing didn't come with instructions.

Monday, December 1, 2008


I made the recipe for cornbread in the New Moosewood Cookbook. It did not taste good. It had a very baking-soda-y taste. We ate all of the cornbread anyway, except for the last piece, which sat in our refrigerator for weeks and weeks. Something had to be done. The following was done:

Unfortunately, the cornbread survived relatively unscathed.

So the experiment was repeated, with slight alterations based on my vague understanding of the physical world.