Tangled Branches: Satiated

riveting tales of how we sustain ourselves

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Everything Old is New Again

Did you ever re-read something from an old book and find yourself startled that it sounds like something you thought was a new idea? I'm talking specifically about bread here, and in particular about the Jim Lahey/Mark Bittman No-Knead Bread phenomenon.

On Twitter this morning, I saw a Tweet by Margaret Roach that Laurie Colwin's book Home Cooking contains an essay on home-baked bread, with a favorite recipe. I've written before how much I enjoyed Laurie Colwin's writing in Gourmet magazine years ago, and I have copies of both Home Cooking and More Home Cooking - collections of those columns. Soooooo, I went right to the bookshelf and picked up Home Cooking and found Bread in the index. I don't remember reading this particular essay before, which is odd because I thought I savored every one. But maybe not so odd after all, because I've been baking bread for many years and consider myself pretty competent. Perhaps I didn't pay much attention to this column because I thought yeah, yeah, I know all about baking bread....

The first part of the essay is Colwin's usual blend of gentle humor, anecdote, and wisdom and it brought back cozy memories of looking forward her column every month. But when I got to the end and read her recipe, I was shocked at how similar it was to the ultra-famous Lahey/Bittman recipe. It relies on the same long, slow period of rising, and the proportions of ingredients are almost the same. Consider this summary of the two recipes side-by-side (scroll down if you don't see the table - there's a bug somewhere in my CSS):



1/2 tsp. yeast

1/4 tsp. yeast

3 3/4 cups flour total (mixed white, whole wheat, coarse whole wheat)

3 cups flour

1 1/2 cups water or milk or mixture

1 5/8 or 1 1/2 cups water depending on version

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. salt, although this has been increased by almost everybody


don't knead

roll dough in flour; let rise a long time

let rise a long time in mixing bowl

punch down, let rise again a shorter time

shape in a ball, cover with bran, let rise a shorter time

bake at 450F for 30 minutes, lower heat to 425F and bake another 20 minutes

bake at 450F covered for 30 minutes and uncovered for 15 minutes

For the record, Colwin credits her inspiration as a recipe called "Bloomer Loaf" from English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David.

This post was doubly-inspired by Twitter because I've recently been making the Lahey/Bittman No-Knead bread using sourdough starter. Now, I started with a dried sourdough culture from sourdo.com, but Robin Wedewer is growing her own sourdough culture from grapes. I am humbled.

I've already spent more time than I intended to on this, so more about my sourdough experiments later. With pictures?


posted by Entangled at 11:34 AM 0 comments