Bread alone

four loaves on cooling rack

In addition to our regular dinner cooking shifts, we have also included various DIY food-processing type chores in the coop labor system.  At the moment we make our own yogurt and bread regularly, and we make veggie stock (from veggie ends and scraps and peels), granola, and seitan occasionally.  The yogurt and bread have been my duties for the better part of the past year, which on average amounts to a gallon of yogurt and four loaves of bread every other week.  One loaf of the four gets left in the pantry for consumption in the next few days after it’s baked and the other three get sliced and frozen to be eaten over the following two weeks.

People get intimidated by making bread, but it’s really not very difficult or complicated.  It’s not easy to achieve professional-like consistency in your bread without lots of fussing and measuring and checking the humidity report, but it is pretty hard to make inedible – or even un-tasty – bread.  It just involves more waiting time than other sorts of baking that don’t use yeast for leavening.  This is not so much trouble for me, since I work from home at least a few days a week and can do my writing or answer emails or make phone calls or workout or whatnot all while patiently waiting for the yeast to do its magic.  However, when you scale up past two or three loaves at a time, the kneading part of bread making becomes a bit arduous by hand, and our 8-cup standing mixer bowl is just not large enough to accommodate that much dough without turning our pantry into a remake of The Blob.   This is just the perfect scenario for No-Knead Bread!

There are been a number of  no knead bread techniques that have gotten media play over the past few years, starting, I think, with Jim Jahey’s crusty loaf baked-in-a-lidded-pot that was featured in the New York Times in 2006.  It makes a beautiful crusty, round, boule that is delicious, but is a little fussier than what we need for regular toast and sandwich making here at the coop.  So, instead I use a scaled up version of the whole wheat master recipe from the book Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day* which I was introduced to by a former coop-mate.   It’s a really simple process of mixing dry and wet ingredients all together, waiting, portioning into loaves, waiting a little more, and baking.  The only weird ingredient is vital wheat gluten powder, which we keep on hand anyhow for making seitan.   This makes a pretty wet dough, which is why you don’t need to knead it to develop the gluten (moisture develops gluten on it’s own given time), and it’s easy to incorporate various ‘add-ins’ for variety: raw millet and rolled oats are common ones in our house, but you could also use nuts or dried fruit.  I threw in some raw red lentils a few weeks ago which added a nice crunch and color. The crumb comes out really moist and if you bother to steam the oven a bit while it’s baking you can get a good crust  on top of the loaf.  It works as well in loaf pans as in a free form boule or other shapes.  And, if you have way more space in your fridge than we do, you can also just bake off one loaf at a time and keep the unbaked dough in a big bucket in the fridge until you want another one.

When I baked bread for a 100-person commune and had a big Hobart mixer, I could easily turn out 12-14 loaves of regular fluffy kneaded bread in a few hours, and that was just one day’s worth, but this no-knead version works pretty well as a plain, go-to, versatile bread recipe and technique here in the 6 person coop.  But, when I’m feeling fancy, or as a compliment to a dinner night, I’ll do up a more novel breadstuff like some butter buns or pull apart rolls or this swirl bread from last week.

white and molasses-darkened whole wheat swirled up

*Note that I don’t actually believe in or endorse the idea that whole grains are healthier than husked grains, which is what the marketing of this book is based around, nor do I believe that “healthy” can be used as a blanket descriptor for any food or group of foods, without taking into account the extremely nuanced, varied, and individual circumstances of the person eating that food.  But that’s the title of the book, and it is a really good recipe.


2 responses

    • While I sometimes used to sing to the curds when I was making cheese at Twin Oaks, I have never whispered to bread.

      But, seriously, I don’t think I have any particular gift or skill at bread baking, I’ve just done it enough that I know how dough feels when it’s doing something vaguely right. And that’s not even for any specific kind of bread – I’d be hard pressed to make a baguette or a ciabatta or something real particular like that without a lot of trial and error.

      There’s just so much room between ‘ugh, i wouldn’t eat that’ and ‘omg, that’s the best bread ever!’ that is very, very accessible. Take pizza crust, for instance. There are a million different varieties of pizza crust – thin, thick, fluffy, oily, dry, charred, etc. – but they’re each and every one of them delicious. So, even if you aim for thin, charred Neapolitan style crust and accidentally end up with thicker, fluffier, paler crust, you still win, because you still have homemade pizza, which is awesome! And it’s so little effort – especially if you use a standing mixer or food processor (there’s a great food processor recipe for pizza dough that was on serious eats awhile back) – that i don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it all the time, except that you have to plan ahead an hour to and hour and a half to let the dough rise.

      And you know I weigh how much trouble it is to clean up after doing something very carefully against the gratification I get from doing the thing. But cleaning up after baking bread is one of those things that is way easier than it looks like it will be when your surfaces are all covered in flour. With this no knead business the worst is getting the dried dough out of the corners of the (square) dough bucket, but that probably just means we should get a round bucket.

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