Everyone's been buzzing about the recent NY Times article on no knead, wet dough bread, baked in a casserole dish (Le Creusset is the preferred choice, if you're lucky enough to have one--my wife just reminded me that we need to go out and get one right away!). The recipe is from Jim Lahey's Sullivan Street Bakery, one of my favorites in NYC. Many of you have written to me, asking my thoughts on it so let me comment in a second. First, I want to refer you to a great bread website: www.thefreshloaf.com out of Portland, Oregon. Floyd Mann, the host of the site (and a long time friend), has journaled his tests of the NY Times recipe there and opened it up for chat. You can join in the discussion there as well as on the King Arthur Baking Circle, or the Bread-Bakers List (go to www.bread-bakers.com to sign up for this e-group). I assume this topic is showing up on other bread groups that I haven't listed (send me the e-addresses so I can post them for everyone, if you have any that you think should listed, at: firstname.lastname@example.org ).
Speaking of testers, I am behind (again) on responding to all of you who are testing but hope to catch up this week, so please bear with me. The editing process is gruelling and I have to get the first corrections back to the editors by Monday (tomorrow). After that, I will respond to all who are waiting for new recipes to test. If you haven't heard back by Wednesday, write to me and let me know--sometimes I miss one amidst the deluge.
Okay, back to the Lahey recipe: I love the concept and the fact that it's generating so much buzz. If you look closely at it, it's very similar to the pain a l'ancienne featured in The Bread Baker's Apprentice a few years ago, with the added dimension of baking large round or oblong loaves and not just baguettes, focaccia, and ciabatta. The hot casserole or cast iron pan idea is very similar to baking in a cloche, which some of you already do. The most important thing about this article and recipe is that it shows we are still learning more about bread; the knowledge that has been gained over the past few years is being applied in new and ingenious ways (or old and rediscovered ways). Some people are already discovering ways to tweak Jim's version to make what they consider even better loaves. I'm sure Jim is as happy as I am that it has engendered such interest and that bakers are exploring it and adding it their repertoire. Using wild yeast starters, longer and shorter fermentations cycles, more (or less) yeast, extra folds--all of these are signs of engagement, and who could ask for more than that. The most exciting aspect of the bread baking movement is how it engages people, gets into your blood and under your skin (metaphorically only, I hope), and kindles unexpected passion. This is a perfect example.
Congratulations to Jim and to writer Mark Bittman for igniting so much interest. This story only adds more energy to the bread revolution. I'm going to try the method on some of my new whole grain recipes to see if they respond to the technique. If they do, I may have to quickly add a chapter to the book. I'm telling you, even after 6,000 years of bread baking we're still learning how to do it.
May your bread always rise!