As I had mentioned a few weeks ago, one of my goals for this year was to bake more bread. I had looked online at different bread cookbooks and decided that The Bread Baker’s Apprentice looked like a good place to start- it had gotten many good reviews- so I put it on my wish list and received it from my sister for Christmas. Basically the book gives three different recipes for starter doughs, which you have to make the day before, and then lots of “formulas” for different types of bread. I chose a farm bread recipe, and while it wasn’t terrible, it was an awful lot of work for a result that was a little disappointing. The main issue I have with this book is that there is no “troubleshooting” section. If you’re an experienced bread baker, this obviously doesn’t pose much of a problem. But I had thought the book was going to be an “all you’ll ever need to know on bread” sort of thing. What happened in this particular case is that my bread refused to rise during the final “proofing” stage. I went ahead and baked it anyway, and while it wasn’t necessarily bad, it definitely was nothing like the big crusty farm loaves I get from Zingerman’s or Avalon (go here for a debate on the Detroit area’s best bread). After having to practically babysit the damn thing for over 24 hours, you can understand why I felt just as deflated as my dough when the whole thing was over. Didn’t even take any photos.
Another thing I had been wanting to try since I had read about it a couple years ago was the now-famous no-knead bread recipe that Jeffrey Steingarten and Mark Bittman made famous. Although this also requires starting the day before, it’s a much more low-maintenance technique and I got a markedly better result than I had with the two-dough, three-rise bread. You start off with a very wet dough, which you let sit at room temp for 12-18 hours. It gets all bubbly and looks a bit like a science project:
After that, you shape it into a ball- it’s a bit difficult because the dough is pretty wet and sticky, but I managed:
The only slightly weird thing about this bread was that it was oddly moist when I cut into it, despite having let it rest and cool for over an hour. The crust was brown and crisp, and even a teeny bit overdone on the bottom, so I know it wasn’t an issue with not cooking it long enough. The bread had a nice large, open crumb as well. The only thing that could have improved it for me was having a slightly smaller container to cook it in (it calls for baking the bread in a dutch oven). Because of the large oval shape of my Le Creuset, the loaf came out flatter and thinner than I would have liked; I imagine a round (or smaller) dutch oven would produce more of a boule-shaped loaf. The flat thin shape is fine for eating on its own (and I actually like the higher crust-to-crumb ratio), but wouldn’t work so well for sandwiches. Still, overall, this is a great recipe that takes very little effort for a big payoff. And all the ladies at the soup swap gave the thumbs up! I still want to try my hand at making more of the breads in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice, but it’s nice to know that I have this one up my sleeve.