Edit: If you don’t want the story or the moral and want to go directly to the successful no-knead bread recipe that I have tested since, go here. Else, keep reading and enjoy!
Today I will tell you a story with a moral.
Or perhaps even a few of those (morals). And no pictures. And no recipe. No, not today. You’ll see (or not see, as it may be) in a minute. But, you do get a moral, which is something I tend to like in my stories – hope you do too.
… Once upon a time, so it came to be that after being largely absent from the blog (and my kitchen) for a while, I figured that I would ease back into cooking after the essay-writing and being somewhat ill with something no more complicated than ordering a pizza or frying a few sausages to eat with a pile of arugula. Something simple. Easy. Something everyone has been saying works, and is oh-so-easy to do – even a four-year-old can do it!
Yes, you’ve guessed it – I have decided to try that no-knead bread that virtually every food blogger wrote about in the past six years or so since it came out. There are whole websites, with videos, dedicated to this and its apparently utter effortlessness. So, I thought, this is the ticket – let me make this lazy bread and enjoy the fruit of my [not] labor tomorrow.
Now before I get into this… I have lived in USA. I own a food scale which measures in metric and in pounds/ounces, and I own a measuring cup with American volume measures too. Down to 1/4 cup. And a calculator. And a brain, too, though sometimes I do feel that might have misplaced it.
I faithfully wrote the recipe down – the version adapted for sourdough starter – and checked it against the original New York Times recipe. Looked rather close, so I did not worry. I did as the recipes suggested (and the video demonstrated) – mixed the dry ingredients, then whisked my sourdough starter into the water, and added that to the bowl. Mixed further. The dough became sticky and shaggy – and looked remarkably like what the video showed, to boot. Ok, thought I, I’ve got it made.
But no. None of the above has, apparently, helped. Yesterday morning, I happily bounced into the kitchen anticipating carefree bread baking. I floured my board and scraped the dough… I mean, poured the dough out on it. It immediately stuck like glue despite my generous flouring (more so than the video demonstrated), and was nowhere near the consistency it would need to be to be stretched, and folded. I tried to panickedly flour the board some more, scraping the dough off it, and add more flour to my hands, but to no avail. While I was flailing about, the dough attempted to leak off the board and onto the counter. That was the final drip (haha), and so after a few feeble attempts to get it to behave, I poured it off the board back into the bowl and contemplated it. I really do not like throwing away food, and it did look fixable. And not actually that far off from a really wet-but-possible-to-handle dough.
So I sighed, got out my handheld mixer and dough hooks, and more flour. In all, I had to add 2.5 ounces (that’s about 90g) of flour before the dough could be handled. With effort and a lot of flour on surface, hands, and virtually my entire kitchen, I heroically managed a stretch-and-fold, and allowed the dough to rest. Then I said a quick prayer to the kitchen gods that it would not stick to my well-covered in wheat bran banetton, pre-shaped the dough gently and stuck it into the banetton. The kitchen gods were, apparently, merciful, or else they were particularly well-disposed to my faithful banetton this day, for it was not ruined. The dough did not stick. So I proofed it, preheated my cast-iron pan, and baked it.
It was a total and unmitigated disaster. The bread looked sort of ok, but once it has cooled and I cut into it, I found a combination of giant (not large, large is good – but giant!) holes and bricky, gluey crumb. Which left me truly scratching my head and wondering what in the seven hells went wrong with it. Other than my attempts to fix it by adding more flour later (likely at least a contributing factor), that is.
Having slept on it (well no, on my bed actually – I did end up tossing the bread out, as the results of this failure weren’t even fit to make croutons!), I have decided that I am going to do this again, until I have gotten it right. Many photos of gorgeous no-knead bread beckon from the google image page, and besides, I am just too damned stubborn to let a recipe defy me in my own kitchen. And gawdamnit, I am good at baking bread! I should be able to deal with this touted-for-beginners recipe! [insert foot stomp here]
So I did some more research, and I think I have pinpointed what went wrong – too little flour in the initial mix (I did follow the instructions, but I guess Swedish water is just a lot more wet *snicker snerk* – another site said that the consistensy should be adjusted if it looks too wet, thank you that first site for not telling me to begin with!), and possibly a too-long fermentation time as well (some authors suggest 12-14 hours, not 18-20, or else a refrigerator overnight – that makes sense to me, my levain usually does rise in about 8-10 hours and this is just a salted version of levain, essentially). Some more photos of the mixed initial dough suggest it should be more solid. In short, there will be a rematch, and this time, this time I will master and overcome!
And so the moral of today’s story is this: Don’t believe all you hear. This is really rather important, and I normally do follow my advice – shame on me for failing! And, I really should know better, and remember that it applies to everything, including “trusted” cookbooks. I’ve been there before. Trust your gut feeling – if it [whatever it is you are making] looks like it’s too [something] for what it should be, it probably is. It’s not true just becase you’ve seen it on tv/read it on the internet.
In the words of Arnold the Governator of the State of California, I’ll be Bach. And next time, no-knead bread, I will return victorious!