If you couldn't tell from the title, I'm pretty excited about the fact that I made bread! At home! Not in a breadmaker appliance!
Now, the secret: it's really, really easy. I did it using the "Lahey Method." If he named the method himself, does that put Lahey into the same boat as superstar athletes who talk of themselves in the 3rd person? Gavin thinks so. Here are some photos before the recipe and story...
In sum, to make bread this way you:
1) mix flour, yeast, table salt, and water for 30 seconds
2) cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 12-18 hours
3) remove from bowl and shape into ball, set on cornmeal in a towel
4) let rise for 1-2 hours
5) cook in a dutch oven for 35 minutes - the 1st 25 with the lid on, the last 10 with it off.
That's right, the most complicated thing is waiting/timing. My sister is in South Africa right now, and 2 good friends have spent much of the year in India - figuring out what time it is where they are is somehow very hard for me. So, figuring out when to make this bread can be complicated. Making the bread - not complicated.
So, how did I decide to make bread? A while back we tried making homemade pasta for the first time - its a blast and scrumptious too. I liked the tactile process of kneading dough. So, I wanted to try making bread. I started looking at some bread cookbooks and found that the process was fairly intimidating - there are concepts and words that are not used in any other cooking that I've tried yet. I stumbled upon this Lahey book at the bookstore, and I was pleasantly surprised by all the other authors/chefs who endorsed his method - Mark Bittman, Martha Stewart, etc. Like when I'm looking for good non-fiction, and trust the endorsers on the back, I have been finding the same with cookbooks. Best example: every single cookbook mentions On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee and indeed, it is fantastic.
Anyhow, it was the only bread book that I'd picked up that didn't seem to be promising a challenging and frustrating process. I am all for mastering difficult arts, but at this point, I wanted the easy version as an entry point and the "Lahey Method" was just that. In fact, it requires no kneading at all.
I've now baked the bread 5 or 6 times, and I'd say it comes out quite good. Is it baguette in Paris good - no. Is it as good as what you'd find in the "artisan" section at Kroger's - yes. We'll keep tweaking it and make it even better, and I'm confident that people will be impressed with it at our next dinner party or holiday.
Finally, I've now been bitten by the bread making bug a bit, buddy boy (threw the last 2 in for fun). I'm 30 pages in to Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads. I've taken a break the last 2 days from reading, because frankly, it's overwhelming. Lots of science, and that's not my strong suit. With the Lahey recipe I made one loaf that was about 45% whole wheat and another at 25%. The 45% version was not so good, and my sense from the research I've done is that Lahey is nice, but if I want to really have some bread game, it's Reinhart I need to learn from.
If and when I bake a loaf the old-fashioned way, I'll post about it. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy this simple bread making and I encourage you to try it too.