Monday, February 23, 2009

My Brother the Bread Baker

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!


sevprez said...

my friend diana, an expert on all things culinary, just informed me that "cooks illustrated" actually retooled the no-knead recipe to cut down on baking time. i had to share!

Rising time is 8-18 hours, plus an additional rise of 2 hours, plus 50 min baking time. You need a pot that can withstand 500 degree heat with a lid. A dutch oven or Le Creuset casserole dish work well.

No-Knead Bread 2.0
3 cups flour
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cups plus 2 TBS water, room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 TBS mild-flavored lager (I've used PBR and Blue Moon)
1 TBS white vinegar

Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Using rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl w/ plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature 8-18 hours.

Lay a 12-18 inch sheet of parchment paper inside 10 inch skillet and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead 10-15 times. Shape dough into a ball by pulling edges into middle. Transfer dough to parchment-lined skillet and sprahysurface of dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until it has doubled in size, about 2 hours.

30 min before baking adjust oven rack to lowest position, place pot with lid on rack, and heat to 500 degrees. Lightly flour top of dough and make a 6 inch long, half inch deep slit along top of dough. Carefully remove pot lid and lower dough into pot using parchment paper to hold it. Cover pot. Reduce temperature to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30 min. Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown, 20-30 min longer

MA said...

you might enjoy this e-mail that I received today. I guess you are on the top of your game and know the trends before anyone else!
Epicurious Recipe Flash []