Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. Give him ramen noodles, and you don’t have to teach him anything.
- Lawrence Downes
A follow-up article by Mark Bittman, who wrote the original (posted by me here). My own thoughts: I disagree with Bittman (and others) about the salt; half a tablespoon is probably enough for me. True about rye - one third rye flour was tasty but it didn't rise well (though it may also have been too wet). Regular whole wheat flour was wonderful (one cup wheat to two cups white bread flour), but I had to add a bit more water as the wheat flour was "thirsty." Speaking of water, I think Bittman's suggestion of "almost too wet to handle" sounds right, though it may only become apparent after rising, which may be too late. A Silpat mat is a good idea, instead of a towel (though I don't have one); I learned to put the towel and dough on a plate, because it soaks right through. Re. baking - I started using the crock of my crock pot, but the oven spring is not so great, so I may try preheating it longer.
And yes, this bread did change my life.
New York Times
December 6, 2006
No Kneading, but Some Fine-Tuning
By MARK BITTMAN
LAST month I wrote about Jim Lahey, the owner of Sullivan Street Bakery on West 47th Street in Manhattan, and his clever way to produce a European-style boule at home. Mr. Lahey’s recipe calls for very little yeast, a wet dough, long rising times and baking in a closed, preheated pot. My results with Mr. Lahey’s method have been beyond satisfying.
Happily, so have those of most readers. In the last few weeks Jim Lahey’s recipe has been translated into German, baked in Togo, discussed on more than 200 blogs and written about in other newspapers. It has changed the lives (their words, not mine) of veteran and novice bakers. It has also generated enough questions to warrant further discussion here. The topics are more or less in the order of the quantity of inquiries.
WEIGHT VS. VOLUME The original recipe contained volume measures, but for those who prefer to use weight, here are the measurements: 430 grams of flour, 345 grams of water, 1 gram of yeast and 8 grams of salt. With experience, many people will stop measuring altogether and add just enough water to make the dough almost too wet to handle.
SALT Many people, me included, felt Mr. Lahey’s bread was not salty enough. Yes, you can use more salt and it won’t significantly affect the rising time. I’ve settled at just under a tablespoon.
YEAST Instant yeast, called for in the recipe, is also called rapid-rise yeast. But you can use whatever yeast you like. Active dry yeast can be used without proofing (soaking it to make sure it’s active).
TIMING About 18 hours is the preferred initial rising time. Some readers have cut this to as little as eight hours and reported little difference. I have not had much luck with shorter times, but I have gone nearly 24 hours without a problem. Room temperature will affect the rising time, and so will the temperature of the water you add (I start with tepid). Like many other people, I’m eager to see what effect warmer weather will have. But to those who have moved the rising dough around the room trying to find the 70-degree sweet spot: please stop. Any normal room temperature is fine. Just wait until you see bubbles and well-developed gluten — the long strands that cling to the sides of the bowl when you tilt it — before proceeding.
THE SECOND RISE Mr. Lahey originally suggested one to two hours, but two to three is more like it, in my experience. (Ambient temperatures in the summer will probably knock this time down some.) Some readers almost entirely skipped this rise, shaping the dough after the first rise and letting it rest while the pot and oven preheat; this is worth trying, of course.
OTHER FLOURS Up to 30 percent whole-grain flour works consistently and well, and 50 percent whole-wheat is also excellent. At least one reader used 100 percent whole-wheat and reported “great crust but somewhat inferior crumb,” which sounds promising. I’ve kept rye, which is delicious but notoriously impossible to get to rise, to about 20 percent. There is room to experiment.
FLAVORINGS The best time to add caraway seeds, chopped olives, onions, cheese, walnuts, raisins or whatever other traditional bread flavorings you like is after you’ve mixed the dough. But it’s not the only time; you can fold in ingredients before the second rising.
OTHER SHAPES Baguettes in fish steamers, rolls in muffin tins or classic loaves in loaf pans: if you can imagine it, and stay roughly within the pattern, it will work.
COVERING BETWEEN RISES A Silpat mat under the dough is a clever idea (not mine). Plastic wrap can be used as a top layer in place of a second towel.
THE POT The size matters, but not much. I have settled on a smaller pot than Mr. Lahey has, about three or four quarts. This produces a higher loaf, which many people prefer — again, me included. I’m using cast iron. Readers have reported success with just about every available material. Note that the lid handles on Le Creuset pots can only withstand temperatures up to 400 degrees. So avoid using them, or remove the handle first.
BAKING You can increase the initial temperature to 500 degrees for more rapid browning, but be careful; I scorched a loaf containing whole-wheat flour by doing this. Yes, you can reduce the length of time the pot is covered to 20 minutes from 30, and then increase the time the loaf bakes uncovered. Most people have had a good experience baking for an additional 30 minutes once the pot is uncovered.
As these answers demonstrate, almost everything about Mr. Lahey’s bread is flexible, within limits. As we experiment, we will have failures. (Like the time I stopped adding flour because the phone rang, and didn’t realize it until 18 hours later. Even this, however, was reparable). This method is going to have people experimenting, and largely succeeding, until something better comes along. It may be quite a while.