Recently I have come to believe that my brother is secretly developing a show for the Food Network. I've started looking for the hidden camera in his kitchen. What else would explain the fact that he has taken his love of hosting and cooking to the next level and started baking his own bread? What else could explain the fact that he hosted a Bread Taste-Off on Saturday?
The competitors? None other than my brother and his father-in-law.
To some, this may sound like the set up for a painfully embarrassing Ben Stiller movie, but lucky for everyone involved, my family's got great in-laws -- the best. So it was just a little friendly competition and all of us judges had a good time toying with the emotions of the bakers as their fate hung in the balance of our taste buds.
Both bread-bakers swear by the No-Knead Bread recipe that appeared in the New York Times in 2006. The full write-up was penned by my favorite food writer, Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything. He got the recipe from the man who owns the Sullivan Street Bakery. If you don't know about this establishment, it provides some of the best restaurants in New York with dark, luscious, drool-worthy, extra crusty bread. (Their gigantic brown bags are prominently featured at Frankie's 457 on Court Street, where you should go if you are in the neighborhood.)
As the bread rose in the oven, my brother explained the genius of the recipe. Basically, making good bread is very simple, but you have to know one secret. The thing that stops the home cook from getting the crust that all carbophiles lust after is nothing but a little steam. Professional bakers work with steam injected ovens, but we amateurs don't have access to such pricey hardware. A pastry chef turned architect I know once told me his way around the problem: put a cookie tin in the bottom of the oven, throw water on this hot sheet of metal as you put the bread in, and -- quickly! -- shut the door.
Simple enough, but for the uninitiated, a little scary, right? I might feel comfortable trying that method if I knew my oven warranty was up to date and I was wearing a HazMat suit. Well the chef at the Sullivan Street Bakery has solved this problem with one simple, beautiful kitchen accessory: a dutch oven. That's all you need. If you are still intrigued, I urge you to read the article and try it yourself.
Back to the bake-off. I will tell you that Bread A was made with bread flour, and Bread B was made with regular flour. Both loaves were delicious, but A eeked out a victory due to its extra crunchy crust. I will not reveal who cooked what, but I will leave with this photo, of the men and their bread. Bravo to both! I will eat your bread any time, and I am always available for food judging!