JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Slow but simple bread

This fabulous white loaf is a revelation - a beautiful ball of bread dusted with semolina, and with a light airy open texture that costs pounds in the supermarket. All for pennies, a couple of minute's work, no kneading - and eaten so fast that there was no time to take a photograph.

It came from a food blog I discovered this week, via the New York Times website. You have to sign in to the website, which is a bit of a bore, but once you get to the right page you'll find a little film of Jim Lahey from Sullivan Street Bakery explaining his method. The problem for UK cooks is that it's all in cup measures, so I've translated it into metric.

Put 360g of ordinary flour into a large bowl. I used my all-purpose flour, which is lovely soft Italian type "00" from Waitrose - the exact opposite of the strong flour you are "supposed" to use for breadmaking. Add 1/4 tsp of instant yeast and 1 1/4 tsp salt. Mix with 300ml warm water. It will be a shaggy, sticky mess. Cover the bowl (I used a plate) and leave in a warm place for at least 12 hours. Jim Lahey says 18-20 hours is best; I left mine for about 36hrs.

By this time the dough will look bubbled. Strew a little flour on a work surface and turn the dough out. Now fold it on itself a couple of times - this is a much gentler action than kneading. Cover with the upturned bowl and leave for 15 minutes.

Get a clean teacloth and strew it with a little polenta or semolina. Shape the dough into a ball, put it on one half of the cloth, and cover it with the other half. Leave this to rise for two hours.

Half an hour before it's fully risen, put a lidded casserole dish in a very hot oven - 230C if your oven will do it. The casserole can be metal, ceramic or glass; I used a small Le Creuset pan. You don't need to grease it, the bread won't stick. When it's really hot, and the dough is risen, take the pan out of the oven and turn the dough into it (don't worry too much what it looks like at this point), replace the lid and bake for half an hour. Then take off the lid and bake for 5-10 minutes more.

There are two reasons for the success of this slightly startling recipe - the first is that time replaces the need to knead; the second is that covering the dough in a hot pan is as close to a commercial steam oven as you can get in an ordinary domestic kitchen.

Timing is easy - mix the dough in the afternoon or evening, and bake in the morning.

1 comment:

farmgirl susan said...

I think I'm going to have to go back and do some more experimenting with this recipe. Your variations sound intriguing. I've only used strong bread flour (high gluten) and have never let the dough ferment for longer than 24 hours. Thanks for the inspiration! : )